Mirror Dead by Magda McQueen

Pass the pineal colada and maybe one of those green scarabs, because I need a break and some refreshments while I absorb what I just read. Mirror Dead is billed as, “a thoroughly contemporary novel which amply demonstrates the rude health of the ghost story at the beginning of the twenty-first century”. I find that, while accurate, this description doesn’t do this remarkable book justice at all.

A ghost story with a difference, Mirror Dead, without giving too many spoilers, explores the ghosts we carry within ourselves, not just the ghosts of those unfortunately unborn, but perhaps the ghosts of regret, missed opportunities, and the hauntings we create for ourselves through obsession, resentment, and jealousy. There is something about how this story is constructed which reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s work. There’s a darkness, a marvellous morbidity with an irresistible lure of unexpected colour and imagination. But against this unique and beautifully crafted backdrop appears a cast of completely believable, exquisitely flawed human characters.

Our protagonist begins the book as almost a shadow; struggling, weighed down with grief and burdened with what I found to be a very unexpected guest. As the story develops, so does Simon, coming alive in more ways than one. His nasty little surprise develops right along with him, but in a very different way, becoming ever more unhinged and wild. The supporting cast are just as compelling; the thorny Rose; sensual, smart, and not taking any of your shit, thank you very much. Shelley, the unlucky but ever optimistic friend, who seems to get the sticky end of life more than seems fair. Stefan, the nauseously nasty ex, who becomes a character you truly love to hate.

And then there’s Miranda, the link between this world and the fantastical world created to represent the residing place of angels and the dead. The way McQueen describes this realm is somewhat reminiscent of South American Day of the Dead traditions, and something more visceral, with a touch of unique modernity and a kind of organic steam-punk feel that just relentlessly pulls you in. From the delightful bar-man with his odd eyes and worm-like hair, to the flame-maned naked angel, the imagery is simply stunning. Someone needs to buy the film rights to this book because, my word, what a visual spectacular it would be.

This is a book that I am going to immediately read again, and there have only been a handful of those in my entire life. Part ghost story, part horror, a dash of love story, this book is an intensely modern examination of the psyche but without ever being pretentious. Written with a deliciously dark humour that keeps the story rolling along, this book is a rare treasure. McQueen is definitely an author to watch out for, I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next.

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