The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

I first read this book when I was in college in the ’80s (showing my age here).  I remember my three roomates and myself passing it around and how excited we all were to find such a great book.  Over the years since then, once in awhile something would remind me of it, and I would think about finding a copy and re-reading it.  Well, I have finally done that. 

The book begins in modern day Boulder, Colorado where Shay Garrett gazes into an old mirror and suddenly finds herself transported almost 100 years into the past.  She soon realizes that she is now inside the body of her grandmother, Brandy McCabe, and about to be married to a miner who lives in tiny Nederland, a mining town.  Shay must deal with living in a world that is alien to her, living her grandmother’s life, and knowing the future before it happens. 

In the meantime, you guessed it, Brandy has now taken over Shay’s body and life.  Not only must she deal with the evils of the “modern” world, but she soon realizes that Shay had conceived a child before the big switch.  What a shock since Brandy has never even “lain with a man”.  I put that world “modern” in quotations because this book was written in 1978 and the world certainly has changed in those 30 years.  Probably more than in the 100 years between Brandy and Shay!

I do remember loving the first half of the book (Shay as Brandy) much more than the second half (Brandy as Shay).  That still holds true, even though the “blast from the past” descriptions of life in the 70’s were entertaining this time around.  The description of the mysterious polished box with a glass front and the words “Zenith Solid-State Chromacolor II” on it and 2 buttons (one labeled Off/On and one labeled Chromatic)  made me giggle.  Reminded me of our TV when I was a child.  Still, I’d love to chop the last 100 pages off and add 100 to the first part of the book.  I’ve become a bit more discriminating in my reading since the first time around and the writing in this book is not particularly good.  Why does Millhiser insist on using contractions whenever possible? (Shay’d walked around the house as if she were in a trance … Rachael’d carried a tray of goblets into the dining room, etc.)

All criticism aside, if you like time travel books give this one a try.  Even with its faults it is an entertaining read.

An interesting aside:  The  house Shay/Brandy lives in is referred to as “The Gingerbread House” throughout the book.  There really is a “Gingerbread House” in Boulder.  It’s pictured on the cover of the book, and you can check it out here as well.

My Rating: 

16 thoughts on “The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

  1. I just finished reading The Mirror, and i must agree that the first half of the book was a lot better that the second half. I felt a stronger connection to Shay as Brandy.
    As I moved through the book I hoped the narrator or even perhaps the characters would explain WHY the switch occurred between these two women. And even now I wonder WHY, WHY, WHY????
    I’ve thought maybe there was so much distance and lack of communication between the mother and daughters in this book that the switch occurred to bring the women together and help them understand each other. I’ve also thought maybe the mirror grants these women their inner desired (Ex. not to marry Mr. Strock and not marrying Marek Weir). Perhaps the mirror gave these women a life that was better than what they would have lived without the switch.
    Overall, I enjoyed the book, but the ending has left me very unsatisfied.
    Anyone have any theories as to why the switch occurred?? I refuse to believe it was “just because” there has to be more…a reason.

  2. Very good question. And why did Shay and Brandy get switched, while others that looked into the mirror got killed?

  3. When Shay-as-Brandy in 1958 returned from travels to the Orient, she looked in the mirror and saw a vision of Rachel giving birth to baby Shay. She then had a stroke and was subsequently taken to the nursing home. So who inhabited the body of Shay-as-Brandy while Shay lived her first 20 years from 1958 to 1978?

  4. So you are saying that Shay-as-Brandy saw herself being born then had the stroke and was in the nursing home for 20 years? So somehow Shay was both in the nursing home (as Brandy) and born to Rachel in those same 20 years? Confusing right?? Anyone have any ideas?

  5. Re: Elderly Shay in 1958-1978.
    That was still the same Shay who’d gone back in time and lived as Brandy in 1900-1958. As I understood it, the stroke the mirror gave her just turned her into a paralytic, a cripple. It didn’t change who she was. Baby Shay was still the original Shay, and the elderly one was still the time-travelling Shay, as evinced by the fact that, on the day of the switch in 1978, the grandmother tried to warn Rachael and Shay about the mirror and tell them about the diary that would explain it all (she said “book”).

    I guess the whole stroke thing was obviously meant as a kind of deus-ex-machina plot device, to prevent there being “two Shays”. Maybe it was sort of a glitch or “crash” in the mirror’s operation, because its makers didn’t account for the possibility of two versions of the same person coexisting in the same timeline. Hence the crack formed in the mirror at the moment of the stroke.

  6. As for the above question about the effects the mirror has on people, it seems there’s kind of a random rotation at work, based on the various cases starting in the prologue:

    Ship’s captain – has a stroke.

    Ship captain’s widow – switched (it’s said she was convinced she’s another person).

    A shopkeeper – sees visions driving him to suicide.

    Pemberthy’s niece – sees visions (but is spared suicide because the family moved out in a hurry, leaving the mirror behind).

    Brandy/Shay – switched.

    Pemberthy – has a stroke.

    Brandy’s brother-in-law – sees visions driving him to suicide.

    Elderly Shay – has a stroke.

    Mrs Wilson (the antique dealer near the ending) – sees visions driving her to suicide.

    Another interesting thing is the visions themselves – of prehistoric life on Earth, primitive humans, possibly images of a future or technology that doesn’t exist yet, all interspersed with images of Shay and Brandy.

    Also curious to notice how this stuff with the mirror happens not only during thunderstorms, but also every time someone manhandles it or thinks violent thoughts toward it, like wanting to destroy it. It’s kind of a clever “defense mechanism” of the mirror’s that also ends up dictating the progression of each of the two narratives. Like when there’s a temporary un-switching, conveniently occurring right after Brandy runs away from the house, leading to Shay being the one to find the strange shelter for Brandy as well as the “price of admission” into that shelter (a bagful of kittens).

  7. I bought this book at a used book store in the early 1980’s, when in my teens. I am now 45 and have read this book over and over again. I read it, love it, put it away,…..then stumble across it about 4 or f years later, and read it again. I never get tired of it. Every time I read it I find something new in it, that I missed the first time. I will have to buy myself a new copy soon, as the one I have is now so torn and dogeared….:)

  8. I bought this book at a used book store in the early 1980’s, when in my teens. I am now 45 and have read this book over and over again. I read it, love it, put it away,…..then stumble across it about 4 or 5 years later, and read it again. I never get tired of it. Every time I read it I find something new in it, that I missed the first time. I will have to buy myself a new copy soon, as the one I have is now so torn and dogeared….:)

  9. (sorry for the double post. lol, tried to fix spelling error) About “booklove”‘s comment about why Brandy/Shay were the only ones to get switched. They weren’t. Re-read the opening prologue, “Backwards”….the captain’s widow was put in an institution soon after her husbands death due to (quote) ” a strange malaise of the mind that convinced her she was not herself, but someone else…..” (I just caught that this time around, in my upteenth reading of this book. 🙂

  10. Thanks John! I think it’s interesting that this book has intrigued so many people and that it really sticks in your memory for a long time (unlike many books which I read and then promptly forget).

  11. Oops sorry. This is BookLove posting anonymously since she is at home and can’t be bothered to log in! 😀

  12. Glad to see I am not the only one who has read this book, re-read and re-read again!! Ironically, my grandmother had gotten it from a book club she belonged to and after reading it gave it to me. I have since passed it along to my daughter who also loves it and has re-read it many times also.
    I agree, the first portion of the book with Shay as Brandy was much better.
    I loved the story of her and Hutch and wish there was more in depth story with them.
    The ending could have been different. I wish it had continued on more about Brandy as Shay and how she eventually fared in modern times. It leads you to think that she and Marek ended up together but it’s not clear. And the images in the mirror of her holding the babies with her head bowed as if in prayer. Just too many loose ends. It seemed that it may have been the lead to a sequel. I think if it had gone more into how she progressed readers may have felt the same connection to Brandy as Shay as with Shay as Brandy.
    I also think this would have made an awesome movie!!

  13. Thanks for your comments Carol! I continue to be amazed how many people love this book. It’s not some great work of literature by any means, but the plot is very intriguing.

  14. I’m one of those “I’ve had this book for years and re-read it often”. We had a hard copy on the bookshelf when I was a child in the 80’s but it had no slip cover, so I had never known what it was about. One bored day on a whim I picked it up and couldn’t stop reading. I can’t explain it, but something about this story is still really compelling to me. Every time I read it I catch something new and for days and weeks afterwards I find myself thinking about the story (and inevitably “what would I do…?”). I genuinely LIKE the characters and always want to know more. I also always think it would make a great t.v. mini-series.

  15. I very much agree that the last half of the book was a little messy. I kept loosing the details of sudden interactions of characters that brandy as a shay meets.

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