Sjon is something of a superstar in his native Iceland. His three previous novels have won various prizes and been translated into some thirty-five languages. Moonstone itself has already taken the Icelandic Literary Prize and the Icelandic Booksellers’ prize for Novel of the Year. On top of that, he’s written songs for his best mate Bjork and lyrics he wrote with Lars von Trier were even nominated for an Oscar. On the sleeve of the novel we see him bigged up by luminaries such as AS Byatt, Junot Diaz, and Ali Smith. So it’s fair to say he comes pretty highly recommended. But does he live up to the hype?
If we were judging him purely on the majesty of his sentence structure and his almost mesmerising way with words, the answer would be a resounding yes. This is a wonderfully written novel. At times, in fact, the reader can get so lost in his utterances that the story is pretty much forgotten.
And therein lies the problem. Because really, even after getting through Moonstone in just a matter of hours, little seems to have stuck by the time you make it to the end. Yes, you’ll know it’s about a boy who sells his body to other men. Yes, you’ll be aware that it takes place in a Reykjavik recently rocked by an erupting volcano. And yes, you’ll know that the Spanish flu plays a huge part in the novel and its often otherworldly feel. But will you be able to adequately sum up the plot? Maybe not.
Any Cop?: For something that comes to us already decorated with such huge platitudes, it would be fair to expect skilful storytelling alongside the incredible writing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. For many this won’t be a concern, because you could undoubtedly be convinced by just the rhythm of the words. But if you want some substance underneath the stylist surface, you might want to skip to the next novel on the bookshelf.