Winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.
'When Macha Connor came home from the war she walked into town as naked as the day she was born, except for well-worn and shining boots, a dusty slouch hat, and the .303 rifle she held across her waist.'
Macha patrols Siddon Rock by night, watching over the town's inhabitants: Brigid, Granna, and all of the Aberline clan; Alistair in Meakin's Haberdashery, with his fine sense of style; Sybil, scrubbing away at the bloodstains in her father's butcher shop; Reverend Siggy, afraid of the outback landscape and the district's magical saltpans; silent Nell with her wild dogs; publican Marg, always accompanied by a cloud of blue; and the new barman, Kelpie Crush.
It is only when refugee Catalin Morgenstern and her young son Josis arrive in town that Macha realises there is nothing she can do to keep the townspeople safe.
Reading Group Book Questions
The Commonwealth Writers Prize judges praised SIDDON ROCK for its rich cast of odd characters and blending of the everyday with fantasy. Behind every door in town lurk secret desires and wild imaginings. The novel, they concluded, deftly delves into the hauntings and disjunctions of settler Australia, and in its fable-like quality captures the laconic mannerisms of the Australian outback.
The book shows how magic, fantasy and creativity can burst out in the most apparently mundane of lives and places.
“Author Glenda Guest ... creates a world of displaced characters who exist in a land governed not by the constraints of war but by the freedom of magical realism. With a cast that evokes the eccentrics of UNDER MILK WOOD, Guest unveils a complex story that taps into five generations with great fluency.
When reduced to a precis, SIDDON ROCK may sound like a story of unmitigated darkness as it explores damaged souls and barren lands but that belies a deep vein of humour throughout. And unadorned elegance.
Guest creates an omniscient voice which is so compelling and confident that readers may begin to fear where they might blindly follow, but this story is in trustworthy hands. Here is a writer whose talent is as magical as her genre.”
Conrad Walters, The Sydney Morning Herald
“THERE'S something of a tradition of women writers producing their first novels late in life and then having significant success. Think Elizabeth Jolley or Mary Wesley. Alongside those redoubtable novelists you might now want to add the name of Glenda Guest.”
Jason Steger, The Age
“The fable-like quality of this story captures the laconic mannerisms of Australian rural life and gestures to the styles of the tall tale and bush yarn. In Siddon Rock we revisit the myth of the white child lost in the bush with chilling freshness.”
Judges, South East Asia Pacific Commonwealth Writers’ Prize
“Guest says she wanted to write a story with a strong sense of place, and she has. The terrain is breathtakingly spare and tough and stunning. She has adopted a fantastical approach to storytelling with hints of magic realism – which manages to be both daring and just right in Outback Australia. This is a story that delights and shocks with its spiritual energy and refreshingly original voice.”
Mary Philip, The Courier Mail
With sprinklings of magic realism and a deft hand for compelling characters, Glenda Guest has created one of the loveliest debut novels I’ve read in a long while. Many of the residents of the small, isolated town of Siddon Rock have washed up there with complicated lives behind them-or are descended from those with complex stories. They are seeking refuge from the wider, wilder world and finding some sort of peace and/or shelter in the town’s isolation. Over the course of the book a return, an arrival, and a sudden departure mark the points on which the narrative hinges, drawing you into the ways in which each of the townsfolk deal with the rumples in their lives. If I have one critique, it is that the character development sometimes comes at the expense of the narrative. Everyone in the town-and there seem to be surprisingly many of them-is so completely drawn that each individual’s tangent is fascinating enough to form the basis of the book itself. But that is a minor point really, for readers of contemporary Australian fiction, this is a terrific addition to the list and should be widely read and enjoyed.
Eliza Metcalfe is a freelance writer and editor and former assistant editor of Bookseller+Publisher
Siddon Rock is a perfect example of how powerful magical realism can be in the hands of a talented and insightful author. The aboriginal guide Jack shows us the lay of the metaphysical land when his employer Henry, fresh off the boat from England, compares his first experiences of Australia with Alice’s adventures in Wonderland:
This Alice, Jack said, she a friend of yours?
Not exactly, Henry replied. She’s in a story. Not real.
Jack looked concerned and laid a friendly hand on Henry’s arm. Pity that … Our stories here. They real.
These days the label ‘Magic Realism’ is used to refer to any escapist novel that includes supernatural elements but does not easily fit into science fiction or fantasy and as a result the term has lost its potency. It originally referred specifically to the work a branch of literary authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie. These writers were distinguished not only by their skill in showing us the world through the eyes of someone who experiences reality differently (a world inhabited by ghosts and miracles perhaps) but also by their ability to convince the reader that this worldview might actually be plausible. Siddon Rock, I am delighted to say, remains faithful to the original ambitions of magical realism. Furthermore, the seamless blending of various European stories and myths with the more ancient and raw power of the Australian landscape firmly places Siddon Rock in the company of Peter Carey’s Illywhacker as on of the best local examples of the genre.
Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Glenda Guest possesses the wonderful trick of being able make the ordinary seem miraculous and to fit the miraculous into ordinary life. Her beautiful use of the supernatural to illustrate the emotional landscape of Siddon Rock has allowed Glenda to bring to life an entire town of detailed and memorable characters. From the very first chapter (as Macha Connor returns home from the war, marching stoically into town, naked but for her army boots and rifle) we are allowed access to extraordinary inner lives of this outwardly non-descript bunch of farmers and immigrants.
Magic realism aside, the people of Siddon Rock gain most of their depth from their intuitive observations of each other, particularly the women. In this environment where internal fears and dreams are made real, it is the women who most often glimpse the truth of things. With the exception of the effeminate Alistair, the men of Siddon Rock are often reduced to support characters – driven by individual ambitions and obsessions they impose their thoughts and actions on a world they don’t truly understand and in the end it is the women who regularly deal with the consequences.
The attention paid to language, and the etymology of names in particular, is very effective in adding extra layers of meaning. The various names for the Rock itself, as well as the allusions to various myths in the names of characters like Macha Connor and Josis Morgenstern suggest that if you listen closely enough (and perhaps do a little research) we can sometimes glimpse the true nature of things. Name changes are significant and deliberately explored throughout the novel. The evolution of ‘Yad Yaddin’ through ‘Sit Down Rock’ and ultimately ‘Siddon Rock’ tracks the cultural history of the site but also marks the town’s gradual forgetting of the true meaning or nature of the place.
After all of this, the plot itself seems almost secondary to the everyday lives and relationships of characters, but Glenda does an excellent job keeping the tension and suspense high, with foreboding insights into the darker nature of some of the characters. There are a number of different interweaving narratives in the story, as you would expect in any town. I found two distinct threads lift to the surface but I suspect that other readers will place greater emphasis on other stories which may resonate more with them. There is certainly no one plot line that dominates and no tying up of loose ends in the last few pages. But this is far from unsatisfying as there are sufficient clues throughout the novel to make your own assumptions and the desire to go back and re-read the entire book is one many people won’t be able to resist. For this reason I see it being a great book for reading groups who will fin
"[It] should impress fans of authors as diverse as Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami and Zadie Smith." --Booklist
For Ages: 15 - 19 years old
For Grades: 11 - 10
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: February 2009
Publisher: Random House Australia
Dimensions (cm): 19.7 x 13.1 x 2.1
Weight (kg): 0.21