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the Complete Review
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To purchase Moonstone

Title: Moonstone
Author: Sjón
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Icelandic
Availability: Moonstone - US
Moonstone - UK
Moonstone - Canada
Le garçon qui n'existait pas - France
Der Junge, den es nicht gab - Deutschland
El chico que nunca existió - España
  • The Boy Who Never Was
  • Icelandic title: Mánasteinn: Drengurinn sem aldrei var til
  • Translated by Victoria Cribb

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressively evocative and spare

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 26/5/2016 Hari Kunzru
New Statesman . 29/5/2016 Chris Power

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though it is a deeply felt novel, Sjón's prose is never histrionic or overwrought, balancing rage and hallucination (there are echoes of Artaud and Ballard) with a gentleness of spirit, an affection for precision and the small scale. The result is sure to delight his fans and convert many new ones." - Hari Kunzru, The Guardian

  • "Many authors would look to wring the maximum tumult from these events. Sjón’s interest, however, is tightly focused on Máni, and Máni’s strengths are quiet ones. (...) Sjón’s style is economical, lyrical and sometimes elliptical but, for all his trickster qualities, emotion never gets lost in the intricacies of his storytelling. When the meaning of the book’s subtitle is finally explained, the effect is powerful. Moonstone is about human decency, courage and respect for the individual. It is a small book with a large heart." - Chris Power, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A slim novel, presented in short chapters and focused on the personal, Moonstone nevertheless is a heady work structured around (local) historically significant events. The first nine sections, practically the entire book, all take place in the span of less than two months, from mid-October to early December 1918, but cover important events in Icelandic history, including independence from Denmark -- a novel where the armistice ending the First World War is almost the least of it.
       The backdrop of the first chapters is already spectacular, a major volcanic eruption, as Katla paints: "the night sky every shade of red, from scarlet through violet to crimson, before exploding the canvas with flares of bonfire yellow and gaseous blue". Here as throughout, Sjón is particularly good in playing with focus, not building up around the most obvious and grandiose -- a large-scale volcanic eruption ! -- but using that as almost incidental backdrop. So too the novel opens with the boy of the (sub)title, Máni Steinn Karlsson, making out the still distant but approaching sound of a motorcycle before making the abrupt reveal of what the boys is actually in the middle of doing as he perks his ears, and the back and forth between that activity -- itself all frenzy and desperate lust -- and the approaching motorcycle that he both welcomes and avoids is expertly done.
       Sixteen-year-old Máni lives with octogenarian Karmilla, his great-grandmother's sister, who had taken the boy in a decade earlier; they share a small attic space in the house of a notable Reykjavík family. He is already fairly independent -- earning his money pleasuring men, a pastime the homosexual boy seems to be both adept at and to rather enjoy. It is a female figure, however, that he is most passionate about -- albeit more in the abstract: the motorcycle-riding Sóla G—. He is also movie-mad: "The boy watches all the movies that are imported to Iceland", and "sees most films as often as he can".
       Contagious disease play a prominent role in the novel, as the time-period also sees a deadly imported outbreak of the Spanish flu. Máni survives it, and becomes the local doctor's helper -- which aso brings him into Sóla G—'s proximity. Death and fear of contagion briefly dominate -- but Spanish flu is not the only such disease of significance in the story: leprosy also plays a role -- as does, indirectly, the late-twentieth century AIDS epidemic.
       Even as Icelandic independence is celebrated in grand public spectacle, it is the private that dominates here, Máni getting carried away in the personal and intimate, and then finding himself completely isolated. The final section of the book leaps ahead eleven years, briefly describing the exile's return, and some of what has happened in the meantime -- with a nod, too, to the future, in creating a personal connection between writer and subject-matter(s).
       Moonstone is evocatively realistic, yet it's striking how often the novel veers away from the straightforward realistic, in everything from flu-feverish visions to the screen-world where Máni can lose himself in cinematic fantasies. The novel is cloud-light -- but not empty puff: this is a resonant, memorable tale (and memorable telling).
       An impressive novel, easily containing all its weighty subject-matter, and nicely done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 July 2016

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Moonstone: Reviews: Other books by Sjón under review: Sjón: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Icelandic author Sjón (Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson) was born in 1962.

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© 2016 the complete review

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