Picador, $32.99 pb, 378 pp, 9780330425711
Madigan Mine is the promising first novel by Kirstyn McDermott, who won the Aurealis, Ditmar and Chronos awards for her short story ‘Painless’. Narrated in the first person by Alex Bishop, a young man in his mid-twenties with not much going for him, Madigan Mine tells the story of Alex’s relationship with Madigan Sargood, a childhood friend who re-enters his life after a prolonged absence. The two fall into a reckless and obsessive love affair, but, as people keep noting, there is something dangerous about Madigan. Even after her death, she continues to exhibit an enormous amount of control over Alex, but is she really haunting him, or is it simply Alex’s obsession that refuses to die?
McDermott’s prose is exquisite but at times incongruous with her narrator’s character. Her eloquence sits uneasily in the thoughts of a male, directionless, twenty-something drop-out, as evinced by his limited dialogue, which hits closer to the mark. The dialogue, though, is spot on.
The self-imposed isolation of the narrator, and the sinister hint of the supernatural, underscore the Gothic elements. Here, the setting is crucial. The Sargood mansion and the Catholic cathedral are effective, while Alex’s Melbourne share-house does much to contemporise this Poe-like tale of obsession. But this is not simply a work of Gothic horror. Like all writers of speculative fiction, McDermott pushes genre boundaries. Alex’s psychological turmoil coils throughout the narrative, providing enough twists to maintain momentum, though the plotting is clunky in places, such as when the reader and Ruth – Alex’s sometime housemate and Madigan’s rival for his affections – are delivered ‘proof’ that Alex isn’t simply losing his mind. The fantasy elements are also strong, though McDermott takes longer to embrace them than may be necessary. Her blend of psychological thriller, Gothic horror and fantasy is truly engaging.