Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Publishing by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming
Sometimes you request a book for review based on the author's reputation (Sjón in big business) or even the front cover (and this book has a very atmospheric cover) but for me, I picked this book because of the location as one of my many plans in life is to head to Iceland - the geoogy of the place makes it feel mythical and mysterious which also adds to this novel.
Set in 1918 in Reykjavik, Sjón's incredible novel, Moonstone tells the story of 16 year old Máni who seeks to find his place in society on an island which is on the brink of change. The Spanish flu rages war through the city, changing the heart of the community. He is rebellious, unable to find common ground with the people around him as he hides in the shadows out of sight, and is at odds with society's expectations.
Máni is an outsider who prefers to enjoy going to the cinema rather than interact with reality, with a passion for surrealist films like Les Vampires. He has lost his parents and lives with a distant aunt who doesn't pay him much interest and spends all of his money at the cinema. His film addicition is paid for by sleeping with men, down dark alleys, out on the barren landscape, trying to escape the watchful eyes of society. While sleeping he dreams about the films, threading these into his own life.
For me, Iceland is the main character with ash bellowing from the volcano, changing the landscape into a dream like place, the dramatic cliffs and an ash cloud plunging the island into darkness, tucked away from the Great War but threatened by the flu. Iceland is going through a major change internally and also trying to find its place after independence. Like Máni, Iceland is like an outsider, watching events as a spectator. Moonstone sees both characters become part of the action, with Máni helping at the hospital was the flu spreads around the city, and Island become a more key player.
This short novel tells of clash of life and death, reality and imagination battle for dominance and where personal isolation comes up against the island’s isolation, both struggling to find a place in the world. Moonstone packs a big punch.