The Mirror Thief is a beast of a book, epic in a huge array of senses: the actual heft of this 580-page novel; the historical range of its three settings that span a half millennium; the variety of genres it both defies and masters at the same time; even its reputation. My proof copy of The Mirror Thief lacks a cover image, a prominent author listing, even a title. Its “brand image” is pure praise – advance quotes wrap around both covers and even spill onto the spine, and Melville House have filled a map of recommendations from indie booksellers in the States.
Reading it feels like an undertaking, but you’ll be swept up in the action. The first chapter reads like an American tilt on Beckett’s favoured style of scene-setting, with second-person narration and a listing of drab accoutrements:
Clothes laid out on the dresser: gray slacks, black socks, blue oxford shirt. Hat. Wallet. Bunch of weird coins. On the floor, your new white sneakers and your suitcase. Propped in the corner, your ironheaded cane.
Our protagonist here is in a Venice, Italy hotel room, wondering what a mirror is, really, and setting up the explorative theme of the whole book: the revealing mystery reflected in that pane of glass, whether what you see there is more than reality. Pretty heavy stuff for page 5, but without a moment to rest we’re whisked off a Venetian-themed casino in present-day Las Vegas, crowded with pomp and crude display. Curtis Stone is hunting a gambler, fighting his way through fake gondolas and sickly air-conditioning as a sea of sweaty men bet their money on blackjack cards, eventually making his way to yet another hotel room. Further on we find ourselves in 1950s Venice Beach, California, where the Beat poets are taking off. Across these three cities we encounter gritty noir, Da Vinci Code-level historical mystery, and drool-inducing literary showmanship – all this from a debut novelist, remember!
It’s dizzying, and thrilling, and at times reminded me of The Crying of Lot 49 in its occasional elusiveness. Melville House’s publisher, Dennis Johnson, likens it most to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for its time-hopping bravado and its impeccably precise and electric descriptions of a multitude of time periods and cultures – there’s a lot of meat to it. It’s a rewarding read, one you’ll be pretty chuffed you took the time for it to whisk you around the world and through five centuries, even though you’ll probably have it read over a handful of hazy nights. The overwhelming motif of all those booksellers’ raving praise is that The Mirror Thief consumed them, had them up all night reading it, in breathless anticipation of the next chapter’s events.
The Mirror Thief is published 12 May by Melville House
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Post by Heather