An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire Eye and Lightning Books August 7th 2018
When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm ensues.
Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm are Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparently easy-going nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts that only experience can bring, and May Norman, a young reporter with high ideals sent to cover the story.
An Isolated Incident is a humane and beautifully observed tale of everyday violence, the media’s obsession with the murders of pretty young women and the absence left in the world when someone die.
SHORTLISTED: Miles Franklin Literary Award
SHORTLISTED: Stella Prize
SHORTLISTED: Ned Kelly Prize for Best Crime Novel
An Isolated Incident is good, it is very good. Labelled as a crime novel, it is so much more and in no way typical of your everyday crime novel on today’s overflowing bookshop shelves.
Yes, there is a crime, the unfortunate murder of Bell Michaels, but it is more about what happens to those left behind. How do they rationlise what has happened, how do they cope with such trauma on a daily basis, how do they deal with the do gooders and most importantly the media.
Using Bella’s sister, Chris as the focus of the novel, Maguire writes of a woman who is consumed with grief whose every thought is not about who did the crime but how she can cope with the loss of her sister. I think what made it so much worse for Chris is that she had lost the one good thing about her life, a life that was lonely, that consisted of working in the same bar for over ten years with no obvious way out. In a way it also woke her up, made her examine her life, what she could have done differently, what choices she should have made but didn’t. It is what I liked about Chris, she was full of flaws, not glamorous, not out for revenge, or attention, making her believable, more real.
The so called baddies of the novel were the press, their need for a story overriding Chris’s need for peace, for anonymity. May Norman was one such journalist who wanted to get to close to Chris, to find the killer and although I admired her tenaciousness, I also felt repulsion at her need for the big story and invasion of Chris’s privacy. As I read I hoped that May would be different, would have some morals and some respect.
Maguire didn’t stop there, what I felt she did brilliantly was to highlight how events can effect not just those close to a murder but also the community in which they reside. Strathdee suddenly became the centre of the universe, its flaws laid bare for all to see, individuals with pasts they would rather remain hidden had their skeletons thrust out of cupboards, leaving no places for people to hide. Maguire certainly didn’t show the pretty side and that made it all the more interesting and thought provoking.
There is no huge drama in An Isolated Incident, there are no screaming police sirens, no hard nosed detectives looking for the killer, no dramatic ending as the killer is revealed. It is a novel based around the emotions of the characters, and in particular, Chris. Her all consuming grief and sense of desolation and darkness emanates from the pages,
I found it to be hugely thought provoking, and dark with a unique rawness about it that I found hugely refreshing. The writing is sublime, and I felt myself fully immersed in Chris’s story.
It is not a novel to read quickly but one to read slowly, to savour the wonderful narrative and admire the skills of one very talented author.
I would like to thank Scott Pack and Eye and Lightning books for a copy of An Isolated Incident to read and review.
About the author
Emily Maguire is the author of five novels, including the Miles Franklin Award and Stella Prize shortlisted An Isolated Incident, and two works of non-fiction.
Emily’s articles and essays on sex, feminism, culture and literature have been published widely including in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Observer and The Age.