Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge. All my AWWC reviews can be found here.


I’m not a big reader of horror, not because of any kind of strong dislike of the genre but I find that horror novels seldom make it to the top of my reading list. Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott makes me think that I’ll have to be more active in trying to find good quality horror – I really enjoyed this book.

I hadn’t read much about the story before picking up the novel, and the reading experience was richer for being surprising. But for those that like at least some plot overview, it tells the tale of Alex, a young man drifting through life who runs into a woman who he had known when they were both kids (the Madigan of the title). They get together and have a very dysfunctional relationship. Madigan attracts a quasi cult following of young goths. After she physically attacks Alex, they break up. Madigan commits suicide.

Then weird stuff starts to happen.

My superficial plot description above does not come close to doing justice to an extremely well put together novel. The writing is superb – visceral and compelling with just enough of an ick factor to highlight when something truly depraved is happening without going overboard. Set in Melbourne, it has a fantastic sense of place with the physical descriptions used very effectively to set mood and underscore the plot.

The characters are richly described and strongly developed over the course of the novel. Alex is particularly well drawn, very passive at the start and the story is an interesting case study in him gaining agency. Madigan is a fascinating character, strong willed and ruthlessly pragmatic in the pursuit of her goals. Her impact on an array of secondary characters highlights her evolving personality as she becomes increasingly self absorbed.

In fact most of the relationships portrayed in the novel are pretty messed up. The supernatural aspects of the book serve to highlight just how badly people can treat each other. There was some very interesting comments on power dynamics in relationships and the destructive effects of codependence. Issues of gender are also explored, with different gender orientations dealt with in a matter of fact manner, which is quite refreshing.

The pacing of the novel is excellent. McDermott plays with time, with very effective use of flashbacks to fill in the history of Madigan and Alex’s relationship. The novel had a “hard to put down” quality, with the story moving along at a fair clip and the mystery of what was happening in the present nicely balanced with the flashbacks showing how Alex got to where he was.

The ending of the novel is very strong, although difficult to talk about without giving important plot points away. It was an excellent way to leave the story, reminding me a little of a movie I recall from the late 90s (which I won’t name for fear of giving anything away!).

Madigan Mine was highly commended when released, winning the 2010 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel as well as the Victorian 2011 Chronos Award for Best Long Fiction. I can certainly understand why.

Highly recommended.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good.

OK, sometimes good.

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