peteg's blog - noise - books - 2023 10 19 TrentDalton LoloInTheMirror

Trent Dalton: Lola in the Mirror. (2023)

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Kindle. Third time around with Dalton after Boy Swallows Universe and the less scintillating All Our Shimmering Skies. More of that winning formula: we're back in Brisbane, things are cinematic, there's a love triangle, some complicated story about parentage, junk, alcoholism, drug distribution but not consumption, more underbaked secondary characters, a dash of magic realism and/or mental unwellness, the river, the city. Novel is the choice to set it in the near future — therefore predicting an epic flood during the coming summer — and the focus on homelessness and domestic violence.

I couldn't help but trainspot Dalton's borrowings again. The Brisvegas underclass is so very Andrew McGahan. Our first-person heroine's relationship with glamorous red-dressed bombshell Lola Inthemirror is pure Last Night in Soho. The scenario is more De Palma's Scarface than Trainspotting — leaving aside Begbie clone Brandon Box but noting the complete lack of humour and general absence of non-romantic pleasure — and even more Kill Bill (femmes lethal with blades at ease with cartoon violence and so on) with a dash of Pulp Fiction (that scene where Bruce Willis sees Ving Rhames on the street amongst others). Jacki Weaver for Lady Flo for sure, and obviously Timothée Chalamet for Charlie. I'm sure others will cite others.

The main (structural, literary) flaws are the repetition, that so much text progresses neither character nor plot, the heavy foreshadowing, the busted pacing and predictable dei ex machina in the last movement. Relinquishing destitution appears to require a big pile of drug money (ronin capital, stage one) and (stage two) a rich talented characterless boyfriend with parents who allow you to park your decrepit van on their property; what a stinky disempowering vector, especially in the wake of the plot-convenient elimination of your purported best friend, a male alkie, who you do not mourn. Hmm. Dalton does effectively get out some of the big (positive) emotions but his oft-repeated airheaded takes on love (come on man, rainbows are ephemeral) and the rest are entirely subsumed by the mantra of Kieren Perkins's mum: It's gonna be all right in the end. And if it's not, it isn't the end.

Jack Callil: misguided, nothing new, no nuance — Dalton boils the ocean in search of a rise. Dangerously lazy with his ideation. A conservative worldview adjacent to Scott Morrison's. Ouch. Or is Callil just taking a dig at someone who works for Murdoch? Callil points to Catriona Menzies-Pike's critique of Dalton's first two. Damn straight, no sex! — the most we get here is some tepid fingers-on-arm in the morning. (I now realise that there are no sexual deviants amongst the Daltonian marginalised.) Dalton's prose is relentless and militantly sentimental. Details deployed to smother the deep chasms of difference. And yet she does not compare him with the similarly commercially-successful Tim Winton. Juliette Hughes sells it at the Smage: Paul Heppell's Tyrannosaurus-headed man makes you think of the Minotaur? Hmm. People at Goodreads are loving it so far, or at least those who scored free review copies.

Dalton's books have all the pleasures of tabloid newspapers, including, in this instance, the pictures.