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eighteen: Black Glass by Meg Mundell

Black Glass 

by Meg Mundell
Scribe Publications (2011)

Review published February 2012 at M/C Reviews 
Meg’s response on Facebook : Alison, I think I love you…thanks Ramon for pointing me to this ace review

.. the story is fragmented, like broken glass…

If fiction reveals our cultural journeys, speculative fiction confronts us with dystopian visions of where we could be heading. Debut Australian novelist Meg Mundell shines with her layering of Big Brotherly surveillance and alienated citizenry over the culturally-rich first-world city of Melbourne.

Tally and Grace are sisters seduced by the mythology of the big city. After years of being continuously covertly relocated across the Regions, the sisters are plunged into homelessness when their father’s meth lab explodes. This first explosion rips the sisters’ world apart. Physically apart at the time, they escape separately to the city, each believing the other dead, but holding on to the hope that has long sustained them.
Black glass is a barrier, a means for one group to spy on another. It is the concealed surveillance cameras, the one-way glass at the casino and the health club, the reflective glass of the tall inner-city buildings. It is a thematic device used to effect in Black Glass. The story is fragmented, like broken glass, in its narrative viewpoint shifts, its fragile relationships, and its subversive government-monitoring style headings.
Mundell’s rich use of fragmentation in scene, dialogue and form evokes strong feelings of paranoia and emptiness. Characters are inter-related, but must chart their courses alone. The sisters’ separate entries to the city are documented, ironically as they are ‘undocs’; unverified and unregistered citizens. They spend the majority of the story apart, but are determined to find one another again. The odds, in this disturbing quest novel, are against them. 
Decadent, dirty and dangerous, Melbourne emerges as a shady character in a future-shocked world. It’s all ‘thick coils of heat’ and ‘filthy cracks’. Its ‘tea-brown’ (47) river is choked with plastic, its fountains dry. Streetkids live in her tunnels, and everyone is drawn to the spectacle that is the carnival.
Tally meets Blue, an indigenous undoc in the south interzone, and he teaches her the streets. They get involved in a little illegal marketing which ensures Tally gets around town to look for her sister.Grace doesn’t make it easy for her. She believes Tally dead and any thought of her gets pushed deep down. In her blind quest to make it as an actress, mirrored in today’s desperation for fifteen minutes of reality fame, Grace is targeted by low-rent sex workers in record time and is surrounded by deviancy her whole time in the city. She changes her name and her appearance and fools herself well. While Tally is flashing her one digital image of Grace around, Grace is becoming someone else.
Someone else being creative with the truth is Damon Spark, hack journalist, purveyor of journotainment. He’s there, being subversive and morally indignant in turn, at the climax; the undoc uprising that’s coming as the police cleanse the streets to create an illusion for visiting dignitaries. Sadly Damon’s protestations are more for his perceived integrity than for the fate of the city’s underclass.
The most original character is Milk, a moodie. His migrant father had a lawyer son and a dentist son, and… Milk who spends his waking hours manipulating the mood of the room on a much higher level than a DJ at a nightclub. He is a magician who can control and alter moods with colours, lights, sounds, and edge-of-awareness scents. His work is observed by government operatives who hire him under the pretence of spring-cleaning the city, injecting harmony and goodwill. He is deceived by the perceived respect, he’s a ‘government consultant’ (215), and ignores the sinister intent in which ‘the public just needs a nudge in the right direction’ (213).

‘There are those who make a positive contribution to the city, and those who do the opposite. They’re just a drain on resources and they don’t portray the place in the best light (213).’

Cue the destruction and fallout of character lines intertwining as undocs and sympathisers protest at the security summit. As the city explodes with sirens wailing, ‘bodies mown down like weeds’  (277) and ‘flames gobbling like a mass of hungry tongues’ (273), the story’s denouement is subtle and fast and hardly a solid conclusion, but it works.


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This entry was posted on June 11, 2011 by in australian, author, fiction, Melbourne, review, speculative fiction, YA.
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