This is the ninth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.
by Meg Mundell
Scribe, 2011, ISBN: 9781921640933
This is Melburnite Meg Mundell’s debut novel, and it’s a cracker. Once again*, we have Melbourne being gloomified in a near-future dystopia in which that mighty gap between the haves and the have-nots is bringing the city to the brink of anarchy. In the glass towers, the government manipulates its embedded media to try to keep a lid on. On the streets, the undocumented lower classes slink through the shadows, dodging security cameras and police patrols to earn a crust through corporate sabotage. And then there’s the young turks, looking to draw attention to the corruption at the top and the suffering at the bottom through increasingly violent demonstrations.
Into this tense social battlefield come two sisters, divided by an unfortunate incident, one seeking the other, and both forced to engage with the world beneath the veneer of identity cards and taxable wages.
The sisters provide the emotional thrust of the story, while other points of view are offered by a journalist delving into the underworld and a ‘moodie’ — a cross between tech and artist who uses lights, sounds and smells to exert subtle emotional control over people, usually in a crowd: say, keeping gamblers happy, helping concert-goers get frenetic without being destructive.
And then there are the walk-ons, often undescribed, mere transcripts of conversation as their conversations offer extra explanations and bridge scenes.
It’s a fetching combination of character-driven narrative and reportage, as shiny as the black glass that hides the corporate shenanigans, but not dark enough to be opaque.
All the pieces fit together and the ending is sublimely satisfying. It reminded me a little of the most excellent Moxyland, by South African Lauren Beukes, with its ensemble exploration of social strata.
Black Glass has figured in a bunch of Australian awards short-lists this year; it wouldn’t surprise if Mundell goes all the way in the future.
* cf The Courier’s New Bicycle, below.
Previous Challenge reviews:
- Debris by Jo Anderton, fantasy
- The Resurrectionists, by Kim Wilkins, horror.
- Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan, fantasy.
- Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres, fantasy.
- The Courier’s New Bicycle, by Kim Westwood, fantasy.
- The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror
- The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
- Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.