Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott

Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott is the author's first novel but I have previously reviewed her second (unrelated) novel, Perfections. I think the blurb (on the actual cover, rather than from Goodreads) of this one sums it up quite nicely:
When Alex Bishop meets Madigan Sargood again after twelve years apart, everything changes. His childhood sweetheart is beautiful and impulsive, but there is something wrong with her. Something dangerous. Then she commits suicide.

Now Alex can't get Madigan out if his head. Is it all in his mind, or is she communicating with him?

To save himself and those he loves, Alex must uncover the sinister reason why Madigan took her own life — and why she won't lie still in her grave.

The cover reads, "Obsession never dies..." and the story of Madigan Mine is definitely about obsession. Before I started reading I thought it would be Alex's obsession at the forefront of the  novel. There is some of that, but the novel is really about Madigan. Although she is dead at the start — the story opens with her funeral — we get to know her almost as well as Alex, through flashbacks and through Alex's descriptions. Alex quickly falls into a relationship with her after she waltzes back into his life. At first he's happy to be reunited with her after she moved away while they were at school. Their relationship progresses quickly, building on their shared history in a way that makes perfect sense.

Inevitably, things change. Alex finds himself drifting away from Madigan as she surrounds herself with models and hangers-on, gets lost in her art and Alex starts to wonder how well he really knows her. But that's all back story. In the present, Alex is dealing with Madigan's suicide and events surrounding it. And, despite not having seen or spoken with her for weeks before her death, he suddenly finds he can't get her out of his mind. The mental interjections in Madigan's voice are written in grey, which is the first time I remember seeing that in a book, and was a particularly clever way of handing it. There is more symbolism in the slightly washed-out words than there would have been in italics.

The first half or so of the book is fairly contemporary — as in, not speculative fiction — although some horror elements do come into play. (There was one scene in particular that had a fairly high ick factor for me and quite definitively sealed Madigan Mine as horror, in my mind.) In the second half, however, more speculative elements come prpominently to the forefront. Although it starts off like a contemporary novel, I don't expect people who don't like speculative fiction to enjoy it.

Madigan Mine is eerie, haunting (and haunted) and intense. Alex's journey is not an easy one for him nor for the people around him. Right up until the end I wasn't sure if he was going to survive the book. McDermott's début is an excellent start to what I hope will be a long career. I enjoyed Madigan Mine a lot (even the cringe-worthy bits) and I look forward to reading whatever she writes next (probably starting with her Twelve Planet collection, Contains Small Parts, as soon as the ebook is available). I highly recommend Madigan Mine to fans of horror and to fantasy fans who don't mind dark themes — aside from that one scene I mentioned, I didn't feel it rated all that highly on the nightmare-o-meter.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2010, Picador (Pan Macmillan AU)
Series: no
Format read: real life paper book (trade paperback)
Source: Real life Australian bookshop
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Horror Reading Challenge


  1. I read and reviewed this one when it came out. The author was a bit irked with me for "spoilers" when I indicated it was horror fiction.

    1. I feel like using the word "sinister" in the blurb (and really, several other elements such as the creepy obsession) is a strong indicator that it's horror. That and the awards it's one ;-p

      (There was a review on LT, I think, where there reviewer referred to it throughout ONLY as "dark fantasy" which... not quite.)


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