If there was ever a time to turn to nostalgia for comfort, isolation during the Covid-19 outbreak is certainly ideal. Stuck inside, watching autumn sweep across our landscapes, heralding a winter that is likely to be gloomier than usual, burrowing into a good book that takes you on an immersive journey to the past is one of the nicer ways to pass time.
Almost A Mirror, by Kirsten Krauth, is an excellent option - if nostalgia is your escapism of choice. Set in the 80's and delving into the post-punk music scene in Melbourne, the novel follows three central characters, Mona, Jimmy and Benat, as each is sucked into the unique music subculture and it becomes the backdrop to their individual coming of age.
The timeline of the book switches between past and present, which at times feels dislocating, but in many ways provides a stronger avenue to explore the pull of the past, as the juxtaposition between the characters as carefree youth, filled with the heady excitement of entering their adulthood and their future realities creates a bittersweet tone to the novel.
Krauth's writing is deft, with intricate detail contrasting with the more direct dialogue between characters, and the descriptions of music venues and the overarching subculture creating a vivid sense of place and time for the reader.
The attention to detail and construction of Melbourne as a setting is particularly masterful - one can almost smell and taste the gritty urban jungle Krauth describes.
Alongside the broader theme of coming of age, Almost A Mirror explores the notion of girlhood and sexuality, showing moments of tenderness and growth that unfold gently and carefully.
Whilst Benat and Jimmy are complex characters, it's in Mona that Krauth's ability to draw rich and detailed characters is truly shown.
She is at once wild and carefree, and introspective and vulnerable.
The contrast between the experiences of the primarily male musicians and the many female fans in the music scene as described by Krauth is drawn out objectively, and all characters are given the depth and agency that allows them to be more than stereotypes of a famous time in our cultural history.
Although at times the transitions between the three central points of narrative can feel abrupt, overall Krauth weaves together an engaging and evocative account of an Australia that is close to the hearts of many of her readers, a time that produced some of the most iconic Australian music that continues to live on today.
- Zoya Patel is a Canberra author.