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 Victorian readers who experienced that time themselves, there are many others – young, old, from elsewhere – who will appreciate the fly on the wall insight into the ‘good/bad’ old days of the post punk ‘80s music scene in Australia (a friend of my teenage son recently wanted to know all about the Lubricated Goat vinyl he found in my collection) and the reconciliation with leaving behind our mis-spent youths.
The added bonus with Almost a Mirror is that you can download the chapter heading playlist (via Spotify, YouTube or Apple Music) to set the mood, or keep it going. From Change In Mood by Kids In The Kitchen to Nick The Stripper by Boys Next Door, it is a ripper selection. I love how it crosses genres, an eclectic mix of pop, post punk, and new-romantic, that were seen as so opposed, but that were ultimately bound together by time and experience.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the ‘80s Melbourne Crystal Ballroom music scene, or your own grungy tortured youth – this is the place to turn – it will both satisfy your longing, and remind you how grateful you were to grow up and get on with it.
Kirsten Krauth website. Kirsten is currently promoting her novel via gigs with a crackajack band that accompanies her readings.
Jane Leonard recalls her punk days in her Stereo Story about Walking About by Venom P Stinger.