Shift: the devil indeed wears Prada

Shift. Em Bailey. Melbourne: Hardie Grant Egmont, 2011.

The character called Miranda Vaile is the strong point of this young adult novel. It is well worth reading for her alone. Miranda is offered to us, on the one hand, as a supernatural demon and on the other as a rolled-gold bitch who is disturbed and rageful, but also charming to the nth degree. For good measure, she can also be seen as the symbol of a destructive inner voice, enticing one unlucky girl into anorexia. Whatever she is exactly, Miranda has the psychopaths’s ability to pinpoint and play to our longings, fears and frailties, without a particle of empathy.

The narrator is fellow high school student Olive Corbett, who has plenty of her own issues to work through. Family stuff. Huge amounts of confusion, guilt and anger have knocked her off course. In the early part of the novel she is trying to sort herself out while also observing Miranda from a distance.

Olive has ample evidence that Miranda is vicious and destructive, and decides, reasonably enough, to avoid her. That’s all thrown out the window, though, when Miranda turns her attentions to Olive. Miranda is fun, cutting through social barriers to get her and her underage friends-of-the-moment into nightclubs and posh fashion shoots. The devil indeed wears Prada. Miranda inspires obsessive adoration, which is also seductive, even while separating you from the humble everyday world.

It’s a life lesson: a scary person who suddenly turns sweet, and even flatters you, is almost irresistably seductive, a dream come true. Reason and rationality won’t defeat them.

The rival that a demon cannot defeat, though, is the genuine lover – someone who knows you well enough to offer respect, tenderness and passion.

Who or what is Miranda really? In a way, this is a secondary issue. Herman Melville didn’t need the fantasy genre to show us Moby Dick as the ‘gliding great demon of the deep’. He just had to float the idea.

The double is used as a literary device throughout, to explore personal identity.

Males generally appear in a positive light – the young ones anyway – but in the romance tradition they are pretty much wooden props, even when they say and do the right thing.

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