The Stranger in the Mirror – A Memoir of Middle Age
By Jane Shilling
Vintage Books – £9.99
The Independent referred to this book as ‘dashingly cavalier and artfully artless,’ which I guess it is. It then went on to say it ”bubbles with wit and brio,’ which again, I can’t help but agree with. But there’s something about The Stranger in the Mirror – A Memoir of Middle Age that essentially comes across as being just a little too coquettish for its own good.
There’s absolutely no doubting the fact that Jane Shilling is an altogether magnificent writer. That she regularly writes about books for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mail, clearly corroborates as much. Although mid-way through this thought provoking, and on occasion, eloquently written, semi-autobiographical memoir; I found myself reading from that of the subliminal persuasion as opposed to the ultimatum of the here-and-now.
This was particularly the case during the sixth chapter (of twelve) ‘The Body’s Body,’ where, credit due, the authoress makes no bones about being steeped in fashion: ”One day I bought a fashion magazine: ‘The Don’t Miss List – Vogue’s need-to-know guide to autumn,’ said the coverline. I hoped it might point me in the right direction. Inside were pictures of Kate Moss wearing trousers sewn from a Union flag; a grey chiffon top with a fringe of silver and sulphur yellow beads. In a derelict room with shattered floorboards and walls of ruined azure she stood between a chipped metal chair and an electric kettle, wearing a ballgown of pleated platinum satin; a short dress of white ostrich feathers and another of white organza roses with a studded black leather motorcycle jacket; a ruffled rag of rose and peach-coloured chiffon beneath a frogged military jacket […]. A paragraph of text explained the purpose behind the apparently random juxtapositions of silk fringing and metal chain; embroidered tulle with goat-hair and horsehair, studded leather and old metal badges. ‘Who wants to look like a fashion robot when the joy is adding the you, the me?”’
In and of itself, such Vogue induced writing is for me at least, a dive unto the relatively unknown. So why read the book in the first place eh?
Well, it’s good to venture unto new territory, although I was initially attracted to The Stranger in the Mirror, due to Shilling’s seemingly acute analysis of ageing – and the (nigh hopeless/never ending) coming to terms thereof. On the very first page, she already writes: ”Fashion journalists and doctors would place the onset of middle age well before the end of fertility, at the point at which one’s rate of egg production and cellular renewal begins to slow, and one’s ability to wear hot pants and biker jackets with conviction to diminish.”
Egg production and hot pants aside, there were moments that I found myself teetering upon the near precipice of rapprochement whilst reading some of what the authoress had to say. Especially such a line as the all prevailing: ”All that narrative, and not a syllable of it left written on the body.”
Whether or not such thinking was triggered by Jeanette Winterson’s excellent 1993 novel of the same name (Written on the Body) is of course, open to oodles of conjecture. Either way, this overtly self-introspective book will most certainly make you think.