Gavin Extence first novel The Universe vs Alex Woods, is one of my all-time favourites. It struck a deep personal chord, which made it particularly powerful for me; it’s warmth and compassion are remarkable. It features a slightly disconnected kid finding wonder in classic science fiction, and what’s not to like about that?
When I heard a new Extence novel was on the way, it immediately went to the top of my 2015 must-read list. As ever, I was filled with trepidation about returning to a much loved author (I should probably have an auto-tally on the blog of how many times I’ve said that). Certainly, I did not expect to be as blown away by this book; there was no way it could resonate with me like Alex Woods had. I was right not to. Melody Black is a good novel, but it is not a great one.
Extence’s prose is wonderful. I love reading his descriptions. They’re off-beat, often funny and always beautifully observed. Reading his books are the literary equivalent of slipping into a hot bath; deliciously comfortable and wonderful to wallow in.
In my recent review of Alice and the Fly, I mention that its tone is similar to Alex Woods. Well here the content and themes are similar to Alice. Not only that, there is overlap with another novel that details mental illness, 2013 Costa Winner The Shock of the Fall. All are well observed, have quirky narrators, and deal with depression and mental illness in sensitive and deft fashion. Unfortunately, with so much overlap, it’s unsurprising that when reading Melody Black I felt like I’d heard it all before.
The Mirror World of Melody Black follows freelance journalist Abby Williams after she discovers the body of her neighbour. Simon died alone in a chair, in front of the TV. We immediately know Abby is unusual because the first thing she does is smoke a cigarette in the dead man’s kitchen. Whilst Abby appears initially unperturbed, the lack of connection between herself and the man who lived opposite her triggers a nagging anxiety. Events spiral and before long Abby is riding a juggernaut of self-destruction.
To say much more would spoil the stacking of Extence’s deck. Abby is just one of a host of likeable characters, and as I said Extence’s powers of observation are accurate and amusing. I enjoyed Melody Black. It’s easy to read whilst dealing with important themes. Extence has a light touch that belies the weighty subject matter. This is made all the more sharp by a candid and poignant afterword by the author. There’s nothing particularly new in The Mirror World of Melody Black and it never reaches the heights of The Universe Vs Alex Woods, but then very little does. It is however, funny, moving and uplifting, keeping Gavin Extence at the pinnacle of my must-read authors.
Many thanks to the team at Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy of this book.