‘Black Glass’ by Meg Mundell

2011, 281p

This book is set in Melbourne, but it’s a dissonant Melbourne- recognizable, yet there’s something wrong.  Locations were familiar to me, and yet I think that inhabitants of any affluent city could recognize their own here: every city seems to have a Docklands with high-rise buildings, a ‘Westgate’ bridge or some variation on a similarly anodyne name, malls, a waterfront, a Casino, tourist Ferris wheels [although, unlike Melbourne, most cities seem to have one that actually works.]

In this future Melbourne, the tourist, civic, retail and commercial centres have been made safer by close electronic surveillance and the requirement for official entry documentation. The inner suburbs have been declared an  ‘interzone’, providing residential housing for those permitted to work in the city centre.  Those without the required documents, or the ‘undocs’ are prohibited from working legally and are thus forced into a marginal existence, scrounging for food, working illegally and squatting in disused buildings and under viaducts, bridges and in tunnels.  The proper place for ‘undocs’ is outside the city, in the Regions, where services are non-existent and civic governance seems to have collapsed.

Tally and Grace are teenaged sisters living in the regions, dragged from town to town throughout the Regions by their drug-dealing father.  They had long been planning an escape to the city, even though they would be ‘undocs’, but when their father is killed in a drug-kitchen explosion, they are separated and unsure how to find each other again.  The book traces their two paths as they search, each struggling to find a toe-hold in this dystopian society.

The structure of the book is interesting.  It is divided into 12 chapters, each announced with a rather excessive unnecessary title page, such as you might see when a book has Part I, Part II etc.  Within the chapters, each scene is headed by an annotation of place and people present, as if part of a dossier. Multiple scenes make up each chapter, and this device  quickly contextualized the episode that followed, but also endowed a filmic quality on the narrative.  The scenes were quite distinct from each other, and the writing was so fresh and careful in each one that you almost felt as if they were written, and should be read, each time as a polished episode in its own right.  I don’t normally like such disjointed writing as it sometimes seems a bit of a cop-out from the hard work of maintaining the narrative and moving it forward.  But in this case, each one was so beautifully written and worked well in inching the story forward that it felt like a considered and well-chosen narrative structure.

Tally and Grace and their search for each other lie at the heart of this novel, but there are other themes woven in as well: exploitation, surveillance, dissent and authoritarianism.  Unlike some science fiction (or is it ‘speculative fiction’ these days?) she does not spend a great deal of time on the logistics and details of this chilling world but instead uses it as a backdrop to the story of these two lost sisters.

My rating: 8.5/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it is the second book that I am reading for the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge 2012

14 responses to “‘Black Glass’ by Meg Mundell

  1. I felt the same, Janine. Dystopian literature is not my preferred genre, but the skiful way this was written overcame my reservations. I hope Mundell writes more…

    • So do I. I wondered even whether I should label the book as speculative fiction as the main strength for me was not so much in the futuristic scenario as in the relationship between the sisters.

      • It is very difficult to categorise some books. I think it helps potential readers to decide whether they might like it or not, but ‘labelling’ anything is sometimes fraught with difficulty.

  2. Sounds interesting: something I will follow up.

  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

    Thanks for sharing your review for the AWW challenge

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

  4. You might also like Claire Corbett’s When We Have Wings, its near future, thinly veiled Aussie setting. I have also reviewed it for AWW. I hadn’t heard of Meg before. On Speculative Fiction vs Sci-Fi, the former is used as more of an umbrella term that encapsulates all those works that seem to present a “what i”f scenario. Science fiction I would tend to apply to works that present scenarios or stories that are science heavy or set further in the future. But the point is you liked it and from your review I think I might too.

  5. Great review. I’ve also reviewed this for the AWW challenge. I especially agree with what you said here “The scenes were quite distinct from each other, and the writing was so fresh and careful in each one that you almost felt as if they were written, and should be read, each time as a polished episode in its own right.”

  6. I saw someone today refer to Steven Amsterdam’s first book as one of the “only” Australian dystopias. Given that even then I was responding with “but what about…,” I’m glad to know there is yet another Australian dystopia out there (I was thinking of Kirsty Murray’s “Vulture’s Gate”).

    Also, I reshelved this one at work today, so I know exactly where to find it at the library!

    Thanks for your review.

    • I hadn’t heard of Kirsty Murray’s book- I knew that she wrote YA fiction. Thanks for alerting me to Vulture’s Gate. It sounds as if it is a more distant future than Black Glass, which had a strong sense of being like now, and yet somehow different.

  7. Pingback: Black Glass by Meg Mundell « Devoted Eclectic

  8. Pingback: Australian Women’s Writing Challenge | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

  9. Pingback: 2012 AWW Challenge Speculative Fiction Wrap-up « Australian Women Writers Challenge

  10. Pingback: 2012 AWW Challenge Young Adult Speculative Fiction Wrap-up « Australian Women Writers Challenge

  11. Pingback: My day at home with the Yarra Valley Writers Festival | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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