A quick checklist to see if Trent Dalton’s third novel is for you: do you know, or care, that there are around 120,000 homeless people in Australia, including 12,000 in Brisbane alone? Can you cope with holding a mirror up to the darkest corners of society, from poverty and crime to addiction, unemployment and violence? Are you interested in how the marginalised, the desperate and the bereaved survive when the world is against them?
If you answered yes to these questions then Lola in the Mirror, Trent’s moving, blackly funny and heartbreaking novel, is your fictional holy grail.
The journalist and Australian writing royalty returns to the fertile fields of his first novel, Boy Swallows Universe (currently being made into a Netflix series) which mined the author’s own traumatic childhood with a mother and her heroin dealing partner who were both jailed.
This time around, it’s a young nameless girl who walks us over the threshold of a life that’s incomprehensible to many of us. She’s 17 and she and her mother have been on the run for sixteen of those years. They’re hiding from the police and a man with “monster blood” and a knife in his throat.
The girl has no name because names are dangerous in her situation. What she does have is a dream of becoming a groundbreaking artist whose work will will hang in the world’s greatest galleries.
There’s no doubting her extraordinary talent but when you live in an old Toyota Van with four flat tyres in a scrapyard next to the Brisbane River, your mother works for Flora Box, the local take-no-prisoners drug queen, your best friend is an alcoholic and things haven’t gone your way in forever, life isn’t exactly serving up pathways to artistic glory.
You know where this is going, right? After yet another tragedy, our unnamed narrator ends up on Flora Box’s payroll. The only way to get off that, she’s told, is via a box. But as a deadly storm sweeps across the city, and the lives of every character, there’s only one person who can help – Lola, the woman in the mirror.
The subject matter can be bleak, and you might cringe and/or cry more than you’ll laugh, but by God this is a book that deserves to be read.
Trent holds a giant middle finger up to a world where so many fall between the cracks but no-one seems to care. Maybe after reading it, we will.
Lock the doors, clear your weekend and get stuck in for a wild and beautiful ride.
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