Máni Steinn is a queer sixteen-year-old living in early twentieth century Reykjavik. He is a loner who lives with his great-aunt and spends most of his time at the cinemas. He occasionally makes some extra cash prostituting himself to men, although he also finds himself drawn Sóla, a pretty girl who rides a motorcycle around town and who is well aware of Máni’s secret interactions with local men.
In 1918, the big news in Iceland was the country’s newly gained independence, the recent Katla volcano eruption, and the coal and food shortage. For the most part, Iceland, is spared a lot of the trouble brewing in other parts of the world because of its isolated location. Then horror arrives via incoming ship passengers: the influenza epidemic that swept across the world finds its entry into Reykjavik. The flu’s seemingly manageable early symptoms quickly morph into something far more alarming, and soon, no home is left untouched by sickness or death.
Like Sjón’s other works, Moonstone plays with the line between historical fiction and the fantastical. His latest book is more of a novella really, but while much of the book is rooted in brutal realism and a decent dose of film criticism, the middle section veers off into a psychedelic nightmare that took me a while to figure out. I can’t say much more about it without giving something away.
This book is, for lack of better description, very Sjón. I have mixed feelings about the way it ends, but it’s definitely one of Sjón’s more accessible books.
The English translation of Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was was released in the United States on August 2, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.