Maxine Beneba Clarke was born in Australia to parents from a distant background of Africa, whose ancestors were taken as slaves, ended up in the Caribbean, then more recently in, the UK and finally, back to her parents here in Australia. Judging from the stories that she tells of growing up in suburban Sydney, she’s a bit younger than me, and that makes these stories even worse for me. The way she was treated, for being a girl of colour, in a very white society. I hated these stories, and I can only hope that I was never part of the nasty racism, the casual comments or the lack of understanding that anyone not caucasian has been through. And it’s not over. This is not a thing of the 80s or 90s, it still happens. This is an important memoir, an important book that we should read, and I can only hope it will make society more compassionate.
This is not at all the type of book I read – I have very little interest in the Port Arthur Massacre or looking into the killer’s background of mother. I read this because it was on the Stellar Prize long list and I have put my mind to reading all the books that got there – partly to be contributing a bit to the pocket of contemporary female authors, and partly because I do love me a list. Anyhow, I thought that this was going to be a look at the way the media in general treated the massacre. Instead, it was essentially a critique of another book – Born or Bred by Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro – a book which used parts of Martin Bryant’s mother’s journals allegedly without her permission.
I suspect that this type of enquiry is important – that a book which has been written with questionable ethics should be challenged and there should be some accountability. I just don’t think that I needed to read a whole book about it. It’s possibly very good academic writing, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
It’s a small town outside of Sydney. Bella went missing and, after a few painful days, was found dead, abandoned on the side of a highway. Her older sister, Chris, finds herself in the middle of it all; an investigation, a heap of reporters, and a community within which may hide her sister’s killer.
The book follows a few weeks where, while Chris tries to deal with her grief, aided by her ex-husband and those around her, journalist May, working for an online newspaper, is trying to find her headline and escape her own emotionally broken life.
With so many books on the Stellar Prize long list being non-fiction, I started this thinking it was a true story and only a few chapters in, realised it was fiction. But it is based on the truth of so many small towns where violence occurs, and on the various ways people try to move on. The characters are not necessarily likable, yet Maguire writes them in such an empathetic way that I found myself wanting them to succeed, which I found almost appalling in the case of May; but it is the fact that she is almost self-aware… not quite, but enough that I, against my better judgement, find that I want to be on her side. In a way.
An Isolated Incident was long listed for the 2017 Stellar Prize.