The Mirror World of Melody Black, Gavin Extence
I was excited to read The Mirror World of Melody Black, given that I found myself enjoying The Universe Versus Alex Woods more than I expected to. Reading the first 100 pages or so, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to continue. See, the main character is bipolar, and her swings of mania and depression are really well written. I could see what was coming and wasn’t sure if I wanted to be along for the ride.
The thing is, when the main character is in a psychiatric ward, she and another character talk about it being an alternate world, and each person having their own portal to it. Basically, the turn you made that made everything go downhill. The thing that triggered the cycle. Getting better, she talks about seeing those portals and being able to avoid them. That struck a bit close — I have generalised anxiety disorder, and I’m constantly aware of the things I could do which might make me feel a little better, temporarily, but which could start me off on the whole rollercoaster of anxiety (where the only way seems to be down, and down, and down).
And around page 100, with the way Abby was behaving, I was a little worried this book was going to be one of those moments for me. Usually it’s a moment of stress in my life, or confronting a new situation. But really, I think I was just responding to Abby’s foreboding — and Extence’s. See, he finishes the book with a chapter in which he explains his own experience with mania. The chapters that I found uncomfortable were precisely the ones that made him uncomfortable and which embodied his experience the most. So yes, Mr Extence: you wrote something true. It worked.
If you’ve read this and don’t really understand the title, I have to wonder if it’s maybe because you don’t have that experience of those portals. You don’t know that a silly minor thing could constitute a left turn into another reality. The whole book, everything Abby does from the opening pages, it’s not really a story about finding her neighbour dead, being a journalist or dating when bipolar. It’s a story about that moment she takes the wrong turn and enters an alternate world, where logic stops working properly. Melody Black is important not particularly for herself, but because talking to her makes Abby realise these things. The ‘mirror world’ of the title is really Abby’s own head, when her manic phase is triggered, and Melody Black is just a symbol.
At least, that’s how I read it.