If there was a person who could capture the true nature of society and articulate it into words, it would be Trent Dalton. Dalton is an Australian journalist and already has several books out including the popular Boy Swallows Universe and All Our Shimmering Skies. He’s renowned for bringing the deep-rooted negative issues affecting Australian society to light and creating an incredible story based around that.
Lola in the Mirror is a novel about survival, love, guilt, heartbreak and finding oneself amongst the chaos. The story starts of strong, immediately drawing the reader in, and within a hundred pages tragedy strikes, kicking off the story. A chain of events unfolds leading to the main character with no name after eighteen years of being on the lam (on the run), trying to discover who she really is. There is also an interesting addition to the well-developed cast of characters, who goes by the name of “Lola”. A manifestation in a cracked, second-hand, junk-salvaged mirror in the character’s possession who at first is depicted as part of her imagination. It is Lola who the main character turns to for advice and emotional support, but Lola does not always remain the same, she does not always appear in the mirror how the character expects her to be.
As a homeless girl living in Brisbane without any known family, you have to survive somehow. And what better way to do that than to go work for a drug dealer? A drug dealer who is reluctant to let her employees quit. This causes problems for our character as she wishes to go to art school and pursue her dream of having her work exhibited in a New York art gallery.
At first, I was a little thrown at the artwork that signalled the beginning of a new chapter, but the cartoons broke up the book between some of the longer chapters and were complete with a descriptive plaque about the time the artist drew the piece and a breakdown of what the work depicted. The first artwork at the beginning of the book talks about the artist in such a way that she must be older and hints that the art showing is posthumous. This first artwork made me think the story would cover the main character’s entire life, going over important events until we reached the end of the book where we could potentially end up at the art gallery showing itself.
But the book is actually about the first big adventure for our character and the events leading up to the start of her artistic career.
Readers have to pay close attention to the flashback scenes and the switches from the past to the present. When I started reading the book, I wasn’t necessarily expecting this and found I had to reread a paragraph, realising the character was talking about her past and then flicking back to the future. The character also likes to narrate in third person, telling her story whilst calling herself “the artist”. These stretches also helped break up the story and I think were applied in appropriate areas of the story. When the character spoke to Lola too, she used short sentences which were delightful to read in rhyme.
All in all, I found this book to be a magnificent read. Dalton has done it again, capturing the issue of the housing crisis and record homelessness that is currently plaguing our country. He has built up a wonderful cast of characters and I can honestly say the journey he took them on was certainly not predictable. I found it difficult to put this book down, constantly on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what would happen next.