book review: Maggie’s Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley
Maggie's Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley (Contemporary Fiction), Penguin Random House, $32.99, buy now
Maggie Cotton’s life is a hot mess.
In one day, she’s dumped by her boyfriend, disinherited by her mum, and kicked out of the three-year degree she’d stretched to a decade. And that was before she received the letter saying she owed the government $70,000.
But that’s no reason to grow up, is it?
With a decrepit 1960s caravan to call home, Maggie has to prove to her mother she can survive without a safety net, stop her loyal best friend Jen from marrying a scumbag, and convince her sexy workmate Rueben that she’s not a walking disaster. For someone who’s spent her life avoiding hard work, she sure can move mountains when she’s got a little motivation – just don’t ask her to move the caravan.
Why I had to pick it up
Contemporary Australian women's fiction is at the top of my want-to-read-more-of list right now. These are stories I can relate to, and there's something comforting about reading our own voices and humour in the pages of a well-written book, so I had high hopes as soon as I scanned the back cover of Maggie's Going Nowhere. Then I did what I usually do: I Googled the author. As a writer, I was fascinated about how Rose's path to this book, her debut novel, included a stop at the Clarion Writers' Workshop, landed her a place in the South Australian Hachette Mentorship Program and awarded her the 2014 Axel Clark Memorial Prize for Poetry. What would a book by Rose Hartley look like? Well, something like this!
Why I couldn’t put it down
In my interview with Rose, I asked her how she could create a lead character with so many "unlikeable" qualities and yet who could still tease out empathy in the reader. How was it possible that even as I disapproved of Maggie's choices and attitude to life, I still wanted her to win? Read Rose's answer here. I loved the language and the voice in this book, which framed the humour in such a way that I felt connected to the characters even though we are disconnected by geography and life phases (and, you know, the fact that they're fictional). I couldn't give up on Maggie, and I couldn't wait to know what lay in wait for her on the next page, and the next, and the next...
Why writers will want to read it
Rose's writing is ridiculously easy to read. It is natural and nuanced in a way that had me turning pages so greedily, I was one-third of the way through before I looked up again. I finished the entire book in 36 hours, which is testament to how tight the book is: so much story, and every word pulling its weight. For Australian writers, this is a wonderful example of how to tell our stories in our own way. And for all writers, it's a study in how to write humour that works.