Life Through Cellophane by Gillian Polack

Anyone that’s read more than a few posts here knows that I’m a big fan of small press. You’d probably also know that I’m a big fan of Gillian Polack. Gillian has been a good friend to me and officiated at the launch of MageSign at Conflux 6 a couple of months ago.

life through cellophaneWell, also at Conflux, Gillian had a book launch of her own. Her novel, Life Through Cellophane, was published by Eneit Press, with copies arriving along with the publisher on the actual day of the launch. Phew! So I’ve been slowly getting through my reading pile and have just finished Life Through Cellophane.

It’s a great book and a very unusual one. Kaaron Warren, in her author quote on the cover, says, “Part gentle love story, part bizarre horror tale.” That’s a very good description. It must be said first and foremost that this book is a chick-flick on paper. I’ve talked to Gillian about this and she’s the first to admit that it is a book aimed at a female market, as there is precious little quality speculative fiction for women. Paranormal romance, which is essentially Mills & Boon with vampires (or ghosts, werewolves, insert paranormal element here) may be very popular, but it’s not the same thing. In fact, paranormal romance is the biggest selling genre in ebooks – those ladies just can’t get enough of it. But Gillian’s talking about quality speculative fiction, aimed at a primarily female audience. A very different idea. The beauty is that it’s not just good for the ladies.

The protagonist is a middle aged public servant from Canberra who takes early retirement and finds herself pretty lost in the sea of life. She feels like cellophane, with everybody seeing right through her as though she wasn’t there. But the purchase of an antique mirror and growing relationships with workmates that stay in touch after her redundancy begin to give her a life after all. And then there’s the creepy stalking of the absolute nutcase of an ex-boss.

I must admit that I felt a bit weird reading it. It was like I was hiding out during a secret women’s business meeting, hearing about things I shouldn’t know. Gillian’s characters are strong, their relationships are very real and the slowly mounting sense of menace from the mirror are all excellently handled. For me, the real star of this whole book was the mirror.

This is a book that will appeal mostly to women. Men may find the style and subject a bit out of their comfort zone, but the story kept me interested. (It’s hard to believe, incidentally, just how much coffee and cake gets consumed during the course of this book.) Gillian’s wordsmithery through the voice of Elizabeth the Self-Describing in numerous diary entries, interspersed cleverly with third person narrative, makes this book worth a read. And the mirror is truly nasty. Give it a go.

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