Winner of the prestigious The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, Brisbane author Anna McGahan’s Immaculate is our Calile Book Club read for February.
Described by the author as a “fairytale” Immaculate is set in neighbouring New Farm. The plot centres on Frances, a mother whose world is in emotional turmoil: breakdown of marriage, loss of faith, struggling with sexuality, seeking a cure for her terminally ill child and hoping for a miracle.
The miracle is found in an unexpected place with the arrival of a pregnant teenage girl who claims to have had an immaculate conception. This triggers a chain of astonishing events and leads to the understanding that where there is the greatest suffering, unexpected magic lies, but also that the miracle prayed for is not always the one received.
Immaculate, merges harsh reality with fantasy and explores the themes of faith, hope, identity, and survival. Described by critics as “grunge grown up,” McGahan’s is hailed as expressing the raw, gritty and real generational experience. McGahan is the niece of the late Andrew McGahan who also won the Vogel for his work Praise – also set in Brisbane’s inner-city suburbs it became a “grunge” classic of its time. Traces of this theme can be found in Immaculate with echoes of the same sadness of Praise.
Says McGahan in her acknowledgments, “When I decided to write this, I did not write it for any other reason but to survive.”
All Frances wants is a cure for her daughter, but that would take a miracle, and miracles aren’t something Frances believes in anymore.
Newly divorced from her pastor ex-husband and excommunicated from the church community she once worked within, she wrestles alone with the prognosis of her terminally ill child. Any suggestion of ‘divine intervention’ is salt in the wound of her grief. So when Frances is forced to take in a homeless and pregnant teenage girl who claims to have had an immaculate conception, she’s deeply challenged.
But sixteen-year-old Mary is not who she seems, and soon opens the door to perspectives that profoundly shift Frances’s sense of reality, triggering a chain of astonishing events. It seems that where there is the greatest suffering lies an unexpected magic. Frances begins to hold hope for her family’s future, but the miracle prayed for is not always the one received.
Immaculate is a provocative and tender exploration of loss, identity and healing, and the secret worlds we hide within in order to survive.