The Sound Mirror is, without a doubt, my favourite novel of the year so far.
Without spoilers, here’s why.
*Disclaimer: I received a free advance reading copy from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Sound Mirror In Brief
On fiction, Roland Barthes once wrote that ‘the text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture’.
Never has that been truer than with Heidi James’ novel, which features three central characters – all women – with distinct histories and voices. Spanning 20th and 21st century Britain, The Sound Mirror is a multi-generational examination of the female experience.
Firstly, we have Ada; an Indian immigrant looking for an identity. Spurned for being ‘too British’ by her friends and family; deemed an ‘exotic’ beauty, a possession, by British men.
Then there’s Claire; a working class girl who struggles against a social structure that has already decided her role.
Finally, Tamara – a young woman set in our own familiar 21st century setting. Tamara is deeply troubled, perhaps suffering from some form of PTSD as a result of a traumatic and abusive upbringing.
These three perspectives are interwoven with stunning prose. It’s a tessellation of the fall of the Indian Raj, gender politics of post-WW2 Britain, and, lastly, a glimpse into the contemporary female experience.
Past and Present: A Feminist ExperienceYou know when you’re reading dialogue and you lose track of which character is speaking? And then you have to re-read a paragraph?
There’s none of that here.
In fact, Heidi James has done a wonderful job of giving Ada, Claire, and Tamara their own distinct voices. Claire’s chapters, in particular, capture a post-war, working class dialect in a really authentic way.
You don’t simply read the lives of the characters. You experience them.
And as a male reader, that’s quite a unique experience in itself. It’s a window into the lives of people I would ordinarily know nothing about.
The Sound Mirror is a living text. Each character is from a different period in British history, and yet their experiences overlap. One might even be tempted to venture that the novel itself is a ‘sound mirror’; echoing and reverberating with the voices of its own characters!
This elevates the The Sound Mirror from a feminist novel to a feminist experience.
It’s clear that James is a talented author.
She was once awarded The Guardian’s Crime Fiction novel of the month for a previous novel, and from the beginning, it’s easy to see why.
The Sound Mirror’s prose is spectacular – it’s concise, demonstrative, and evocative. It isn’t a particularly long book either, but every sentence has its place. It’s precise and there’s zero filler. I suspect the author has a very talented editor.
The chapters are also brief. Some only a single page, others spanning four or five.
This makes it addictive to read. The book has that elusive ‘one more chapter’ aspect to it, where you end up reading for a good half hour more than you meant to!
At Tales from Absurdia, I believe that good writing exhibits passion, emotion, reflection, and thoughtfulness – or at least one of these. The Sound Mirror hits all of my criteria.
It’s a first-rate piece of fiction and a genuine pleasure to read.
Final Verdict ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have nothing critical to say about The Sound Mirror.
It’s a remarkable piece of fiction that will appeal to feminist readers. I finished reading it over a week ago now, and I’m still thinking about it.
The chapters are short and snappy, and the prose is just lovely. Once you start reading The Sound Mirror, you will not put it down.
The Sound Mirror will be published on 20th August, 2020 by Bluemoose Books. You can pre-order a limited run hardback copy direct from the publisher.
*For more information on the Tales from Absurdia rating scale, please read the review rating system.