Siren
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Siren

Rachel Matthews

A brave new novel that sensitively explores one woman’s experience of sexual violence and the silencing of those who feel compelled to speak out.

What happens when a young woman enters a city apartment early morning, with two footballers? Jordi Spence is sixteen years old and lives in outer Melbourne. By daybreak, her world has shifted. Max Carlisle, a troubled AFL star, can’t stop what comes next. And Ruby, a single woman from the apartment block, is left with questions when she sees Jordi leave.

In this remarkable novel, Rachel Matthews captures the characters of Jordi and her family, the players, and the often loveable inhabitants of a big city with a deceptive lightness of touch that seduces the reader. Siren reveals the often unnoticed life of a city while simultaneously drawing us deep into a dark and troubling world. What happens has an unexpected effect on all those who are both directly and indirectly involved.

The result is a powerful and haunting novel about cultural stereotypes and expectations, love, loneliness, family and our struggle to connect. In so many ways, Matthews subtly sounds the siren on sexual violence and its prevalence in our culture.

Review

After a night of underage clubbing, 16-year-old Jordi Spence goes home with with two late-career AFL players. They are both more than double her age. Hours later she leaves, bruised and emotionally broken. Crippled by fear of judgement from others, she stays silent and internalises her trauma. Sadly, this situation is not unfamiliar. Too often we hear about abuse like this – the smaller, weaker, more vulnerable people in our society being hurt and then silenced by the powerful.

The characters in this novel span a vast number of socioeconomic positions. There is Max, a footballer with so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it; Ruby, who has recently moved up in the world due to inheritance; Jordi and her family, who scrape by on Centrelink payments; and Florence, a woman sleeping rough who has nothing at all. Matthews has united them all with one shared belief: they all see themselves as passive participants in their own lives. Jordi’s is not a story with a happy ending, or even just an ending. It is extremely real, and Matthews does not attempt to whitewash this story in the slightest.

At the same time, this is a book that must be read; its message is so important. Each of its characters are voiceless in different ways, and Matthews isn’t didactic in her depictions of how they came to be that way. This is simultaneously the most disturbing and compelling aspect of the novel – nobody is poor because they deserve it – they are poor because they were poor to begin with. This is an aspect of our lived reality that is sometimes difficult to even think about.

This is not a book for reading at times of emotional vulnerability, but it is a book that must be read and learned from.


Ellen Cregen works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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