Books

Kirsten Krauth
Almost a Mirror

Almost a Mirror, the second novel from Kirsten Krauth, is a dark and sticky trip to the post-punk music scene of Melbourne in the 1980s. Mona, Jimmy, Beñat, Kaz and Dodge – along with some Nick Cave cameos – orbit St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom as the text spins and staggers between eras, moments and memories.

When pregnant Mona learns of boyfriend Jimmy’s death, she is scooped up by her perennially cool mum, Kaz, and returned to her childhood home in Castlemaine. She meets Beñat at the local pub and finds that he slips easily into the Jimmy-shaped hole in her life. Together they navigate parenthood and the reverberations still felt from the decade in which they lost their innocence. While Mona is the best-drawn character, it is Jimmy and photographer Dodge’s relationship that lies at the novel’s tortured heart, but it never comes completely into focus.

Although the heavy, thudding rhythm of Almost a Mirror works to evoke the era, ultimately too much detail is lost for the memories of those dark nights to build cohesive significance. Krauth picks up and puts down themes and threads – music, art, trauma, innocence, celebrity – but she never lingers long enough for us to comprehend their associations. While it is interesting to revisit this pivotal scene in Australian music, especially the experiences of women, many of the ’80s references and characterisations feel clichéd: the usual list of lollies and fads, Jimmy giving Kaz a bouquet of flowers from her own garden, a teenage trick with the bottom of the popcorn box at the drive-in. Krauth’s extensive understanding of the era is evident throughout but it leaves little room for the characters themselves to breathe.

Still, this is a tender and nostalgic book that takes exciting risks with form: elements of collage and concrete poetry call to mind the influence of the ’70s Melbourne gallerist Sweeney Reed. These subtler references are where the book feels most alive. In its best moments, Almost a Mirror is closer to a great playlist than a great album (and Krauth has made available an accompanying playlist of songs that inspire each chapter) – each section has its beauty but the gaps between are too cavernous for the work to sing as a whole.

Oliver Reeson

Transit Lounge, 304pp, $29.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 25, 2020 as "Kirsten Krauth, Almost a Mirror ".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Reviewer: Oliver Reeson