This particular novel is set in Australia in the 1980s. We follow Mina, a high school girl coming into her own amid an avalanche of problems all around her. Her mother died just a few short weeks before the story begins. Her brother beats and abuses her, and has since she was little. And, her father, while not a bad person per se, is distant and completely oblivious to her emotional state.
Mina refuses to talk about any of the awful things going on in her life, and when confronted about them, she shrugs it off and pretends that they don’t bother her. Instead, to deal with these problems, she retreats into fantasy. Her outlet is a typewriter, with which she turns the people and events in her life into fantastical stories, ranging from sci-fi to adventure to (of course) noir. The action of the novel itself is frequently broken up by bits of these stories—several of which the keen observer may recognize, particularly if they’ve read the anthology Bergen published last year, The Condimental Op.
Writing can be a good and healthy way of dealing with emotional trauma; however, Mina also retreats into fantasy in another, somewhat darker way: a large, black-feathered bird-woman named Animeid, her sometime rescuer, sometime tormenter, who wreaks merry havoc in Mina’s life and is, of course, invisible to everyone but Mina.
I found myself identifying with Mina rather more than I expected to, especially considering that I was never a teenage girl, nor did I grow up in Australia in the 1980s. But, certain events in her life parallel my own, and, in particular, her reactions to these events are rather more familiar than I’m comfortable with. In that way she’s identifiable, yes, but not always easy to like. That’s not a criticism, but merely an observation—Mina in fact doesn’t always like herself either. But, as she comes into her own, both she and we begin to like her and root for her more and more.
This is not your typical coming-of-age story, though. It starts out that way, but eventually encompasses a variety of different styles and genres, from sci-fi to mystery, and more—even apart from the stories-within-a-story that we glimpse from Mina’s writings. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one. It’s odd and unique, at times funny, at times poignant, but always compelling. If you’re looking for something outside the norm, you should definitely give this one a read.