cover image Moonstone


Sjón, trans. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-21243-8

A long-time collaborator with Björk, Sjón is an Icelandic writer, poet, and musician with a cult following. His latest work to be translated into English opens with a sex scene that sent ripples across his homeland upon release and sets the tone for a story both tender and explicit. Set in Reykjavik in 1918 as the Spanish flu runs rampant, this short, impressionistic work follows Máni Steinn, a cinema-obsessed 16-year-old boy who turns tricks for older men passing through his provincial city, and Sola G, a motorcycle-driving girl who infatuates him. As the epidemic’s death toll rises, and his beloved movie theater is shuttered, Máni is employed by Dr. Garibaldi Árnason to assist in the physician’s visits with the dying, while Sola is the driver. After Máni is imprisoned for having sex with a Danish sailor, the pace of the novel quickens and its stakes heighten. This is not a vast historical epic in the mode of Hilary Mantel; the characters and settings are vaguely sketched. But the prose is full of striking and poetic scenes, such as a silent film screened without musical accompaniment because all the musicians have died of influenza: “it becomes apparent just how silent these films really are.” This novel resonates both as an allegory about society and sex, as well as a historical glimpse of a time when pandemic and war pressed upon Iceland from the south. (Aug.)