Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator)
Sixteen-year-old Mani Stein - Moonstone in translation - existed on the fringes of society. He lived in Reykjavik and in 1918 the night sky (and the day for that matter) was lit by the eruptions of the Katla volcano. The Great War was raging, or possibly grinding on, but life in the capital carried on much as usual. There were shortages, such as coal, but there was the new fashion and it was for the movies that Mani lived, seeing every production he could, sometimes several times. He dreamed about the films, changing them to suit his tastes, working his own life into the plots. But there was another reason why Mani was a misfit: Mani was gay and frequently made a living as a sex worker.
|Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator)|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A stunning literary novella that will take your breath away. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: June 2016|
|External links: Author's website|
Life might have continued in this manner for quite some time if it hadn't been for the Spanish flu - imported into the country on the Danish steamship Botnia. Originally it was thought that the impact of the epidemic had been overstated, that the Danes were mere weaklings in contrast to the rugged Icelanders, but the reality was different, the effects devastating and for a while it looked as though Mani would succumb. Hundreds died and for Iceland it was a moment of profound transformation.
Mani doesn't moralise or go in for self-examination, but he's doing his best to make a living for himself, to lead a decent life, by his own lights. It's difficult to see how he could have done other than he did yet when Reykjavik was in desperate straits he thought nothing of doing what was needed, at some cost to himself.
These are big themes, yet Sjon distils them into a novella. I read everything in just under three hours and that included the indulgence of rereading sections just for the pure pleasure of the way that words are used. There isn't a superfluous word in the book and everyone has been placed with care and skill. Sjon is obviously a novelist but he's also a poet, playwright and a librettist - and it shows. Superficially, the different threads of the story - Spanish flu, the birth of cinematography, the Katla eruption, the Great War and the situation of homosexuals - are disparate and it's difficult to imagine that they could be knitted together satisfactorily, but by the end of the story it was impossible to think that they couldn't be linked.
Sjon describes Mani Stein as being the closest to himself of all his characters. His character (being an outsider and rather rebellious) and his interests, particularly the obsession with the movies, put Sjon in mind of himself as an adolescent. Mani's life was harder and Sjon is not gay, but the adolescent Sjon and Mani Stein would certainly recognise each other.
It's a stunning book which stays with you long after you've finished reading. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For another novella which packs a big literary punch, we can recommend Nothing on Earth by Conor O'Callaghan.
Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator) is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2016.
You can read more book reviews or buy Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator) at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator) at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.