Inspired by Iceland
Moonstone Strikes a Chord
Recently, Icelandic writer Sjón has been highly praised by critics for his novella Moonstone: The Boy who Never Was, originally published in 2013 as Mánasteinn: Drengurinn sem aldrei var til. The book came out this year in English translation by Victoria Cribb, which is why it has been widely reviewed lately in the English speaking world.
This short, historical novel takes place in Reykjavík in 1918, describing the life of 16-year-old Máni Steinn, an orphan and school drop-out who struggles in society. This is a dark period in Icelandic history due to a volcanic eruption in Katla, followed by the calamity of the Spanish flu, in addition to a coal shortage caused by the distant war.
Moonstone was recently listed among the year’s best books in Financial Times. The newspaper asked writers and journalists to select the best books of the year, and Moonstone, was the choice of Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan.
In his review, Kurniawan writes, “I always enjoy Sjón’s books, but Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was (Sceptre) is an experience like no other. The author confronts his own limits, and raises the bar for the reader too ... The novel has given me my best reading experience of the year.”
Furthermore, Sjón received a rave review in the November 11 issue of the US weekly The Nation. In an article about his works, written by award-winning writer Charles Baxter, the main subject is Moonstone, but Sjón’s three other novels which have been published in English translation are also covered. They are The Blue Fox, The Whispering Muse and From the Mouth of the Whale.
Baxter writes, “The fixed idea in his work is that other worlds simply must permeate this one, and so, in his fiction, they do. Because the membrane between everyday reality and its counterworlds is very thin, almost every scene he writes is haunted and intensified by the spectral.”
He continues, “If a contemporary equivalent of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita exists, that equivalent would be these books taken together as a group.”
Baxter concludes his article by writing, “Sjón is one of our era’s great writers. Like Ovid, Kafka, and Bulgakov, he is fascinated by metamorphosis and, from apparently limitless resources of the imagination, can convey what it must feel like.”
In the September/October issue of Iceland Review, Moonstone is described as “a book that stirs your every emotion and stimulates your senses with its powerful, poetic description of a painful subject. It is masterfully written, succeeding in weaving together historical details with a touching description of a boy who may never have been, but who always will remain with you once you’ve read his tale.”
The 54-year-old Sjón has published nine novels, in addition to plays, poems and children’s books. His work has been translated into a number of languages. He received the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2005.
By Vala Hafstað