The Mirror

The Mirror - Marlys Millhiser

(I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

This reprint (manner of speaking) of a 1978 novel was definitely interesting to read, although I confess not having paid enough attention at first when it came to the original publishing date... and was confused in the beginning. But that's not fault of the book's, only mine.

The story weaves the lives of Shay and Brandy, the first being the latter's granddaughter. A mysterious mirrors switches their minds in time, forcing Shay to live as Brandy in 1900, and Brandy as Shay in 1978. Of course, each of them has to face a world they don't understand: Shay as a "proper" bride-to-be whose mind and manners are way too open for the people around her, and Brandy as a young woman in a society way too liberated, compared to what she used to know. As daily challenges pile one after the other, managing their families not being the least of them, both react and adapt differently.

I admit I was more interested in Shay's role, narrated in parts 1 and 2. Brandy seemed more passive—in keeping with her education, probably, but it made her walk in Shay's shadow almost all the time, so to speak. Compared to her granddaughter, she had more trouble adjusting. On the other hand, Shay had history to rely on, to help prove the people around her that she wasn't just crazy and indeed knew of some future events. I wasn't convinced the first time she admitted being another person in Brandy's body, thinking "is she stupid? She's going to get committed in no time!" However, it also made me wonder how would anyone react in such a situation. Trying to act the part can only take you so far, after all.

Other ideas are explored as well, especially the chicken-and-egg matter of not knowing if you have to simply reenact a past already "written" in order to end up existing, or if your very presence if this past is now threatening everything, and you don't know what actions are going to make it work, or on the other hand destroy everything. Shay had to use the little knowledge she had of her family (her parents had her a little late in life, and she hadn't known some of the characters she then encounters as Brandy) in order to piece everything together—and it wasn't always easy, for instance when she realised the guy she had to marry wasn't her grandfather, thus wondering what it'd lead to, and how/if history would right itself.

Another point raised here: Shay's control over her family's life. It made her appear as overbearing, always knowing what would happen, who the children would marry, etc., prompting them in turn to do things differently just to prove her wrong... yet history still righted itself at some point. It was hard to tell whether Shay was trying to control everything, or saying what she knew because, well, she knew it, and it escaped her lips from time to time. Keeping such a secret for so long sure must be hard.

It's a bit too bad that Brandy's part felt definitely weaker. From the way young Brandy was presented at first, in the accounts of the McCabes, she seemed more resourceful and rebellious (for a 1900 girl, that is); but the Brandy shown in the third part of the novel was too often silent, retreating into herself, and I couldn't find here the person who was supposed to be curious. Although that was the culture shock speaking, I thought she could've made more of an effort, instead of waiting on Shay to solve the problem on her end. Her story was also more removed from that of her family's, so while Shay's part appeared as more involved, Brandy's left less room to focus on the dynamics among the Garretts. Too bad, as the novel explores parents/children relationships as well as time travel.

Another thing I regretted not reading more about: the mirror itself. Part 3 of the novel introduces a theft, yet nothing was really resolved there. For the whole book, it's presented as some kind of cursed artifact, and it would've been nice

I liked the depictions of daily life in 1900, as Shay tries to adapt. However, the writing itself was too often descriptive as well, telling more than showing what happened.

Overall, a good enough time travel story (that didn't forget to play on the theme of paradox in its own way, a.k.a. the stroke and death), yet one that seemed to lose interest for itself towards the end (Brandy's part).