“The past. That’s all it is. A dead currency. She runs ringers over the stubble of the buzz cut on her scalp, feeling the occasional scar, counts five different ones, each with their own story.”
If you enjoy your sleep, do not pick this book up. If there is one thing Bergen does right (and he does many things out of this world) it is keeping the pages a turning. And this is his biggest offender yet. I was up till 2 o’clock in the morning, flipping through the numbers to see what foul fate happened next. It was an exhilarating ride.
Make no mistake. This book may start off innocent enough, but it soon spirals out of control and right into Bergen’s capable and crafty hands.
Mina is an Australian teenager eking out her days either chatting on the fringes with her friends or typing away a new creative spark. Or being beaten by her older brother. Or talking to her imaginary bird friend. And it only gets stranger from there.
We have an angst-filled prose of a rollercoaster ride that rollicks us through mental and physical abuse, experimentation, and a whole dollop of deception, all set to a background of various gothic and rock songs. Bergen knows how to set a scene and keep the atmosphere from cluttering it up, all while creating a vivid setting of 1980s Melbourne. While the prose can become cumbersome, especially in the beginning, once you hitch a ride on this surreal escapade, you’re in it for the long haul.
“Just another of those weeks that flies by and leaves you wondering what single worthwhile thing actually happened.”
Nothing goes right for a typical teenage girl. As I’ve mentioned already, she’s the victim of abuse and indifference, coping from a recent death of her mother and reckless abandon of her father. While she’s rocking out to a new muse, he’s escorting in other women and letting his underage son drink himself silly. It’s a warm, dark, dank environment that creates a shy loner that hides behind her fringe.
But as time goes by, Mina learns that we’re all hiding, playing games and wearing a mask, so what does it matter? She trades her fake friends for mascara wearing raccoons where one ends up pulling her out of her shell and the other opens up to her. It’s exactly what this heartbroken girl needs.
“Well, I think it’s obvious – you’re unreliable. You have a chronic inability to fathom what’s going on right before your field of vision; you deceive yourself, me, and anyone else you care to include. Have no idea of how you feel and refuse to try. Selfish and somewhat self-indulgent.”
Unfortunately, things fall apart quickly.
Around the halfway mark, everything goes to pot. We’re subjected to one of the strangest dream sequences I’ve seen in a while. It can be jarring. But it’s meant to establish a divide and create a drive for our drifting protagonist. And once that hits, the last 40 percent never lets up.
Almost as good as the pulling descriptions is the dialogue. From Bergen’s third book, Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? I know that he can write some damn amazing conversations. And here he shows off his expertise once more. Peppering the flowing sentences is a juxtaposition of tight, concise back and forths. Strains of talking that keep you moving and keep you guessing, especially near the end. Your head will explode when you realize the title’s namesake, but Bergen won’t let up. There’s more to be told.
“I feel my head is stuffed full of cotton wool, rammed in tight with a shoehorn, and someone’s been liberally dressing the stuff with liquid Panic.”
But it would be wrong of me to not mention the greatest part of this book. No, it’s not the pacing or the writing or the tone. It’s his deepest, most well developed character to date. Mina is an absolute joy to follow, and her plight is made even better by the weird strings that tug on her and the way she interacts at each decision. She’s smart and stays true to character. She doesn’t adhere to a set plot, as you would expect in most murder mysteries; the plot adheres to her as any great bildungsroman.
It is the environment he moulds, in each and every sad conversation, in all of the harrowing scenes from a simple chat at a café to a near rape scene. Every single moment packs a punch, and we’re there to experience this with her.
Thus, it’s very easy to get attached to her. And Bergen does a fantastic job with not only the main star, but with his entire cast.
The only criticism I have is that it starts off sluggishly and thick, but this more than pays off in the explosive ending. And what an ending. A fine quip to past readers, and a lovely sail into the sunset. It’s fitting, remarkable, and exactly what both Mina and Andrez needed.
A chance at self-discovery in one fine mess of ordered chaos.
“Relaxing now into the seat I blow out my cheeks, and then smile.”
*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*