This wonderful novel is like an extended mix tape version of a Stereo Story.
Almost a Mirror (the title itself is from a lyric in the Rowland S Howard song Shivers) uses not just one song, but a two-sided mix tape arrangement of forty-six iconic/notorious ’80s tunes, to begin each chapter. The times are also varied, swinging back and forth between two main periods – post punk ‘80s, and the second decade of the 2000s. Nor is it just one place – with a trio of teenage mates taking us back and forth through a range of scenes – grungy ’80s St Kilda to rural Castlemaine to Sydney.
And while the story captures the gritty, edgy, headiness of those times, it is an unsentimental tribute that also makes room for the sense of being lost, for the meanness, tragedy and pathos that seeped in with the neo-liberal undercurrent that was beginning to alter those times and places. It rewinds to the humour, passion and camaraderie of those teenage Countdown obsessed times, but it also fast forwards to the toll that wild period took on so many, particularly with the prevalence of heroin, and of the tendency back then to try so hard to lose yourself in whatever destructive ways you could.
The clever structure of Almost a Mirror certainly delivers. Reading it is in fact like listening with anticipation to a new mix tape painstakingly compiled by a friend. Just like those old tapes, we are offered a carefully selected and sequenced collage of snippets, complete with gaps and jumps and shifts of genre, that work together to build an engaging emotional narrative encapsulating the highs and lows of growing up in a particular time.
While the novel will especially appeal to