Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was

Written by Sjόn
Review by Edward James

In 1918, the world is in turmoil. WWI wreaks its havoc in Europe, and the Spanish flu is devastating communities around the world. Distant Iceland is no longer a refuge, for the flu has begun its deadly work there. Even nature seems outraged, with Katla’s volcanic fires blazing across the night sky and Reykjavik blotted with dark ash by day.

Sixteen-year old Máni Steinn – Moonstone – is equally in turmoil. Icelandic culture deems homosexuality abhorrent, yet Máni has a steady stream of furtive “gentlemen” who meet him in darkened corners to pay for the teen’s sexual favors. The only refuges that Máni has from a world that has rejected him are the adventure and romance of cinema and Sόla Gudbjörnsdöttir, a girl like no other. She comes from a rung of society far above Máni’s reach, but shares his love of the cinema. Then the flu closes Reykjavik’s theaters, isolating Máni even more. The Angel of Death reaches out for him, or is it Sόla?

This controversial, award-winning novel is described as “the gayest book in Iceland,” and its author, Sjόn, while not himself gay, describes Máni as his most autobiographical character. However, Moonstone is not just gay-oriented fiction; it is a powerful meditation on identity, as both Máni and Iceland grapple with worldly intrusion and personal transformation. At times hallucinatory and at others searingly real, Moonstone hints at rejection and acceptance on many levels, and concludes with hope.