Thursday, 3 January 2019

Review: Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón, trans. from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón

(Translator)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a back page smothered in compliments by A.S. Byatt, Junot Diaz, and David Mitchell, and the black, white and grey picture on its cover and a flash of red tells me its Nordic, then one just has to pick up the book!


The story begins in Reykjavík in the Autumn of 1918. Máni is an orphan who lives with his only relative, his great-grandmother's sister. He is an outsider, earning money through sex with men and spending it going to the cinema. His is infatuated by a mysterious motorcycle-riding local girl who resembles the star of the 1915 film “Les Vampires,” one of his favorites movies, who gives him a red scarf. The island, on the brink of its independence, is not escaping the Spanish Flu pandemic which soon grips the town and decimates its population resulting in the closure of the cinemas. Máni catches the flu but survives and is roped into help the local doctor and undertaker carrying the sick in one direction and bodies in the other. ***SPOILER ALERT*** But Máni gets embroilled in a sodomy scandal with a Danish sailor and is exiled. I for one did not see the ultimate end coming when we learn the circumstances of his birth and the first five years of his life before going to life with the old woman who brought him up.

The writing in this novella is refreshingly simple and straightforward in its language, vocabulary and style. There is none of the common overabundant use of adjectives here. Each word counts. It is the writing of a poet and makes for a great read.
I loved the way the Great War raging to the south of the country hangs over the story and every so often the author uses it like a painter uses light to beautifully convey the story to us readers, for example "There is no cease-fire in the influenza's war on the inhibatants of the town" and after fumigating the cinemas he writes "The greenish-yellow gas that had lately felled the young men on the battlefields of Europe no drifts and rools through the picture houses of Reykjavik"

ashramblings verdict 4* A novel in praise of cinema, the story of a young gay man in a time and place other than the social climate of today, the story of an outsider's survival. Excellent read, highly recommended. I've already ordered more of Sjón's books from my local library.

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