The Medici Mirror is a first novel by Melissa Bailey and is clearly a labour of love. Unfortunately, however, I found it a labour to read. While the premise of the book was initially interesting and the historical links intriguing, I was ultimately disappointed.
The novel revolves around a sixteenth century mirror both its past and present stories, which are intrinsically linked – and inevitably dark in nature. The main focus of the novel is the present, which revolves around Johnny – and a woman named Ophelia whom he forms a relationship with early on. Interspersed with this are stories of the mirror’s origin in Catherine de Medici and its journey to its current location in an abandoned shoe factory (which architect Johnny is renovating).
Catherine de Medici
Personally, the biggest problem I had with this novel was the language. I found the prose too deliberate and the style quite unsuited to the personality traits of the main character, Johnny. It is his narrative that the reader follows and it felt cumbersome: overly descriptive and awkwardly sentimental. I think, for me, this was the fundamental failing.
While there were glimpses of original and inventive storytelling, they were let down by unbelievable situations and unrealistic relationships. It seemed as though anything necessary to progress the story occurred, regardless of whether it pushed the boundaries of reality (characters possessing Swiss-army-knife-like skill sets, incredibly detailed historic information conveniently – and easily – brought to light, and individuals oblivious to pathological behaviour – even before the mirror became involved).
A great deal of the drama of this novel is dependant on the mirror’s influence exerted on the main characters, altering their behaviour and personalities as the mystery unravels. But because I wasn’t endeared to the characters for the reasons mentioned above, their decline wasn’t distressing or, therefore, engaging.
Finally, I suppose this isn’t that important to the story, but the setting of the abandoned shoe factory left a lot to be desired. This was ultimately because shoes and feet and legs seemed to seep into every aspect of the novel. While there is nothing wrong with these things, I feel that unless you are approaching a fetishist level you may find yourself, like me, skimming through lengthy descriptions of lower limbs and their apparel (which I suspect were intended to be seductive, but simply left me feeling rather bored).
The drive behind this story was admirable and there are certainly sections that held promise, especially as it went on. If Bailey focuses more on the story-telling (for the basic story was good) then I may consider giving her next book a go.
As an addendum, this is probably a point more aimed at the editor regarding typography. The use of font that is stylistically representative of handwriting is unnecessary – as was used in this instance to reproduce letters between characters; the concentration required to decipher the font certainly distracted this reader from its content.