Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
‘I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl’, sang Björk in ‘Bachelorette’ – a bold opening line penned by Sjón that evinces the impressionistic images often employed by the author. ‘Moonstone’, too, provides such stylised snapshots, this time from the life of queer, orphaned teen Máni Steinn: disturbing images from his feverish dreams, scenes from the films he watches religiously at the local cinema, and vignettes of his sexual encounters with ‘gentlemen clients’.
The novella cold-opens with what is, surprisingly, the first ever description of a blow job in Icelandic literature. The book, like the boy, moves ever outward – from the intimate towards an expanded focus that takes in the whole of Icelandic society. As Reykjavík’s two cinemas are closed down following the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, Máni is yanked away from his comforting fantasy world and is enlisted to help out his suffering community. The novel’s balancing act hangs on this split, between the boy’s private thoughts and public actions. Though it is unclear whether he feels any real compassion, this might be irrelevant; he cannot isolate himself from the events that unfold. The point, then, may simply be this: that moments of crisis reinforce the bonds between the individual and his community, even for an outcast like Máni. As the novel proclaims, ‘State of emergency / How beautiful to be’.
Words – Eliza Ariadni Kalfa