Wednesday 4 February 2015


Book review: The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence

My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 12 March 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton, 304 pages.

Description: Life has its ups and downs.

From the author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods comes a dark, painful and witty novel about a woman whose life is spiralling out of control.

You're going to find some of my actions frustrating. I'm hard to live with, maddening, uneven - I get that. But I can't stand around listing my faults or we'll be here for ever. All I ask right now is that you indulge me.

For as long as it lasts, this is going to be one hell of a ride.


I'm not sure if it's me subconsciously picking up similarly themed books, or if mental illness is (for a lack of a better word) popular in fiction right now, but up until recently I'd rarely come across a novel focusing on the subject. Yet after reading last year's Costa Book of the Year-winner The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer I reviewed the similarly themed Alice and the Fly by James Rice just a few weeks ago. And The Mirror World of Melody Black too focuses on a mentally unstable character – though rather than schizophrenia, protagonist Abby suffers from type two bipolar disorder.

When we first meet freelance writer Abby she finds her neighbour Simon dead in his flat. While a traumatising experience for most people, Abby is surprisingly calm under the circumstances. Her demeanour is an instant warning sign to those around her, though to the reader it just seems like they're overreacting. Until Abby's mental stability spirals abruptly and completely out of control into a full-blown mania; one in which her emotionless state rapidly escalated from a feeling of optimism to one of utter invincibility.

I have some experience with people who are bipolar and the descriptions within this novel of Abby's feelings and actions were terrifyingly realistic, especially the parts where those who cared about her could no longer get through to her. Mental illness, and bipolar disorder in particular, is a very personal, internal struggle and it is heartbreaking to see someone you love go through this, knowing that they cannot see past the darkness that is clouding their perception of the world.

While the subject matter sounds like it would make for an emotionally draining read, and it certainly was at times, it was also hugely refreshing. Seeing the world through Abby's sometimes depressed and sometimes manic eyes made for a fascinating reading experience; one that was surprisingly humorous too. And though titular character Melody Black featured only briefly within the novel, the concept of the mirror world – although not quite as fantastical as I imagined – was fascinating; the parallel drawn between the sufferers of mental illness was, in all its absurdness, a clever one.

The Mirror World of Melody Black paints a poignant and achingly realistic picture of mental illness, but that is not all this novel is about. Abby is an intelligent and witty character and her fresh voice added a lot of humour to the story. Above all, her journey with its many ups and down was an immensely compelling one and when you are from start to finish glued to the pages of a book you know it's a good one.

Unrelated to the contents of the book, I also want to take a moment to admire the stunning bright yellow proof copy I received. In its subtlety it's far more eye-catching and effective than the final version, which (as you can see above) looks dark and cluttered. I am not sure why the stunning cover is only for the proof copies for now, though perhaps the yellow will be used again in the redesign after this novel undoubtedly wins some prestigious book awards? I sure hope so.

You can pre-order the novel from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:

Many thanks to Lovereading for providing an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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