Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 26, 2011

Black Glass, by Meg Mundell

Black Glass is speculative fiction, a genre I don’t usually read, but I found it interesting.  It’s a futuristic world, but convincingly so, because many of its elements exist already in less extreme form.

Two adolescent sisters, Tally and Grace, are separated by the force of an explosion which kills their father.  (Yes, he’s fooling around with drug manufacture).  Their reunion is problematical because they are ‘undocs‘, that is, they have no ID.  They can expect no assistance of any kind because they are excluded from the gated city along with all the other undesirables: refugees, the homeless, the marginalised.  The girls therefore have to draw on all their own resources because they have no money, no work, no home and no network to help them find each other again.  (They are also excluded from social networking because they can’t access the internet and their one mobile phone gets lost).

This society of the marginalised allows Mundell to create a rich cast of eccentric characters, all of whom have mastered the art of survival in an unforgiving environment, recognizably a Melbourne of the future.  At the same time we see the ways in which the favoured members of this society are manipulated by commerce and government to entrench advantage.   The most convincing example of this is the mood engineer, Milk, (‘tall and pale’) who  manipulates the ambience of a (very recognisable) casino with scent and music so that the gamblers will feel optimistic and waste more money.  As it happens, I know something about government regulation to control how this is already done in casinos and pokie venues, so it’s not a far-fetched scenario at all.   Neither is pervasive city surveillance nor outbreaks of civic disturbance such as we have seen in Paris and elsewhere.

Mundell has a background in journalism, and she takes the opportunity to critique journotainment with its focus on the sordid aspects of society.  ‘You like the underbelly stuff, don’t you?’ asks Luella of Damon, to which he replies ‘Don’t You? Keeps life interesting’.  (p79) Well, I don’t share that fascination, and I think it’s a pity that what used to be merely a tabloid preoccupation has now spread to our ABC and what used to be our quality press.  The risk that Mundell takes in Black Glass is that it shares that preoccupation with the ‘underbelly’, but this book is well-written enough to transcend it.

Narrated by multiple characters in report format, the strands of the story are separated into brief segments with Big-Brotherish headings, as in this example from page 108:

[CONDEMNED BUILDING, SOUTH INTERZONE: TALLY Ι BLUE Ι MOZ Ι PEARL Ι MISCELLANEOUS UNVERIFIED PERSONS]

It has a dissociative effect, which also reinforces the notion that someone somewhere is observing everything, as in Orwell’s 1984. It is a bleak vision of the future, and the ambiguous ending offers no resolution.  Despite this pessimism, I think it might make a rather good film for the YA market because of its strong female characters and its dynamic scene-setting.

Black Glass won the 2008 Dinny O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship and was shortlisted for the 2010 Scribe/CAL Fiction Prize.

Meg Mundell has a website – but be warned, it’s one of those arty sites that takes forever to load, and I couldn’t get the link to her blog to work at all.

Author: Meg Mundell
Title: Black Glass
Publisher: Scribe, 2011
ISBN: 9781921640933
Source: Uncorrected proof review copy courtesy of Scribe Publications.


Responses

  1. […] have read, and loved The Lord of the Rings; yes I have read and enjoyed Black Glass by Meg Mundell (see my review); I was obsessed (a little bit) by Alan Garner’s Cheshire fantasies, and by Ursula Le […]


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