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Susan Midalia's Review of Anna McGahan’s novel Immaculate

An acclaimed actor as well as a playwright and memoirist, Anna McGahan has produced a provocative, sometimes brutal but also often tender debut novel. The most recent winner of the Vogel’s Literary Award, Immaculate centres on the character of Frances Harkin, the wife of Lucas, an Evangelical pastor, and the mother of a young daughter stricken with cancer. When Frances decides to leave her marriage and the religion to which she was once drawn, her life spirals into confusion, powerlessness and destructive conflicts with her husband over medical treatment for their child.


The novel’s exploration of difficult psychological and emotional terrain, including the search for personal identity, coercive religiosity and the anguishing nature of grief, is further complicated by the arrival of a pregnant teenager, Mary, who claims to have had an immaculate conception. While the story is told from the perspective of different characters, it is Frances who lies at its heart.


Variously confronting, hallucinatory, and imbued with a sense of grace, Immaculate asks us to reflect on the sordidness of life, the need for forgiveness and the beauty and ferocity of motherhood.


Publishers Review

Winner of the prestigious The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award.
'Tragic and moving.' HSU-MING TEO, previous winner of The Australian/Vogel's Award

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.

'A gripping and unique story.' KATE ADAMS, bookseller

Biographical note

Anna McGahan is the author of Metanoia and the collection of poetry, Skin. She is an actor, playwright and screenwriter, and has written essays for The Griffith Review, The Guardian and other publications. Anna lives in Meanjin (Brisbane), with her two daughters.