Book review: Roseghetto, Kirsty Jagger

A debut that tracks a life ringed by violence and poverty.

What if you were born into a bad situation? An extremity known only by those with lived experience. 

As you delve into this book’s narrative you’ll feel compelled to embrace Shayla and shield her from harm.

Let’s start from the beginning. Meet Kirsty Jagger, a first-time author whose extensive journalistic experience sets the stage for her remarkable coming-of-age debut novel set in Western Sydney in the 1980s-90s. Jagger possesses a keen eye for detail and creates immersive scenery. Her well-developed characters leap off the pages as she breathes life into their struggles and triumphs.

Roseghetto is a tale rooted in breaking the cycle of violence. While the account is by no means an easy read, the reader is reminded that ‘there’s lots of hope, love, and light in the darkness.’

The story opens with Shayla who is on a newspaper assignment. She returns to Westminster Way after 16 years. On arrival, she is met with a sight she once hoped for but never fathomed: the home she grew up in, where minimal laughter and mostly tears intertwined, now lay in ruins. Demolished by the hands of development. Among the debris of Rosemeadow, Shayla is flooded with memories of her life – the remnants of the locals, their homes, her friends and most importantly their eradicated stories.

The narrative follows the protagonist from her youth as she witnesses extreme poverty and endures domestic violence. We learn how this environment shaped her and how she was taught to keep Daddy’s bad secrets. We also meet her mother, Lauren, a rockstar romance enthusiast trapped in a toxic love affair. who’s never without a cigarette between her fingers.

Throughout it all, Shayla finds solace in her extensive book collection. She uses literature as an escape and as a means to make sense of her tumultuous world. 

Between mother and daughter, what lessons are imparted? What is the price of settling? Who gets to say what’s right or wrong? What if one now knows better? Would they do things differently?

​​As Shayla matures, these questions linger in the air, posing a crucial matter of survival that directly contradicts Lauren’s ideology of what love is.: ‘You need to stop romanticising that shit, Mum … love isn’t actually meant to hurt’.

In this compelling and emotionally charged novel, Jagger sheds light on the harrowing reality of Australia’s economic challenges. As seen through Shayla and her impoverished friends’ perspective; the violence is relegated ‘into background noise. (Where) a door slams. A man shouts. A woman screams back. Something glass smashes. A baby cries.’ And all they can do is wait it out.

Through poignant prose and thought-provoking narrative, Jagger navigates the complexities of these pressing issues with grace and sensitivity. The author urges the reader to confront the realities of inequality and where possible advocate for change while showing kindness to those who share Shayla’s experience.

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Roseghetto is a novel that resonates on multiple levels. It exposes the brutal truth of poverty and domestic violence. It also succeeds in celebrating the power of literature as a means of escape and empowerment. With its striking world-building, well-rounded characters, and enthralling themes, this book is a testament to Jagger’s storytelling prowess. It serves as a poignant reminder that hope can flourish even in the darkest of times. 

Roseghetto will linger in readers’ minds long after the final page.

Roseghetto by Kirsty Jagger
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
ISBN: 9780702266041
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400pp
Publication date: 4 July 2023
RRP: $32.99

Dorcas Maphakela is a writer, visual artist and holistic well-being advocate, using art and words to share knowledge and inspiration on living a full life. She is also a TV presenter, public speaker and founder and producer of the Antenna Award-winning OZ AFRICAN TV (OATV). Alongside her role with Multicultural Arts Victoria, Dorcas co-founded Yo CiTY, a platform that champions the culturally diverse experience through Art & music. Dorcas is an Academic Screen Lecturer at the University of Melbourne. She studied Fine Arts and Master of Arts in Writing. Her work was acknowledged with a Media Award from the Victorian Multicultural Commission for “outstanding reporting on issues of importance to diverse communities and reporting which contributes to Victoria’s cross-cultural understanding” (VMC).