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Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  2,712 ratings  ·  422 reviews
The mesmerising new novel by Iceland's internationally renowned writer Sjón - 'the trickster that makes the world, and he is achingly brilliant' Junot Díaz, 'an extraordinary and original writer' A.S. Byatt.

Winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize

The year is 1918 and in Iceland the erupting volcano Katla can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of
Hardcover, 147 pages
Published June 2nd 2016 by Sceptre (first published October 22nd 2013)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,712 ratings  ·  422 reviews

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Dec 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read during my holiday 24-hour readathon, #readathonbyzoe! Watch the vlog here:
Elyse  Walters
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
ZERO SPOILERS..... NONE!!!!! ( seems I've been here before)....but I feel it's best NOT TO SHARE THE CONTENT. I'd like to pass this book on to others in the same way I read it. Knowing nothing about it.

This is the first book I've read that takes place in Iceland. My 30 year old daughter works there every summer, so I was interested in anything 'Iceland'.
I didn't know one iota about the story. I had not even read the blurb. I stopped reading the blurb after half of the first sentence ....
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did this boy really live or is he but a monument on which to splatter all of our dreams & desires? Is he historical artifact or a faux existence that transcends all forms of classification?

In this, a majorly taut & infinitely "intriguesting" short novel by one of the frequent collaborators of worldwide mega songstress Bjork, we encounter lively magic & tragic history, mingled into a new form of genre that intoxicates the senses. It's a major thing in disguise of a minor novel.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sjón is a genius there, I said it. He manages to capture the spirit of Iceland, its roughness as well as its enchanting powers, in prose that is both forceful and dreamlike, and I love him for it. In the tradition of the sagas, he blends fact with fiction in this historic novella which tells the story of orphaned Máni Steinn, a lonely, queer school drop-out who is earning money as a teenage prostitute in Reykjavik, 1918.

What makes the book so strong is how Sjón blurs historic events like the
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an incredible short novella and what a wonderful surprise. Sjon takes us to 1918 where the First World War is a mere backdrop trouble to the people of Iceland as the Spanish Flu arrives out of nowhere killing thousands of people. We see this period through the eyes of sixteen year old Mani, a hustler; whose main priorities are sleeping with men for money and pleasure, or going to the cinema and experiencing films and escapism. Big world dramas and small life dramas have equal importance and ...more
Richard Derus
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 5* of five

My new #review is live today. MOONSTONE: The Boy Who Never Was, is truly jaw-dropping. From the review: "Sjón operates equally lyrically when describing the antiquated views of the doctor and the simple survival techniques of Máni."

Farrar, Straus and Giroux gets 5 full stars because they chose Victoria Cribb to translate this book. Clearly she is fearless! This is a must-read for anyone interested in #LGBTQ lit.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fable, A metaphor, a parable, a very fevered dream? Just what has Sjon given us in this short novel set in Iceland in the waning days of the Great War, during a time of major change, loss. In this story told largely from the point of view of a sixteen year old gay boy who lives for the joys of the films he sees as often as possible at the two theaters in the city, we see different ways of belonging or feeling alien in your own skin, your town, your life. There are some brilliant parallels ...more
ARC review
Probably my favourite of Sjón's four books translated to English, and if it hadn't been for a handful of pages, would have made it to 4.5-rounded-up-to-5. A tiny, barely novella-length, story about a shy 16-year-old gay cineaste living through the 1918 influenza pandemic and the same year's Icelandic independence, here was a protagonist and setting that finally made me feel why the author's works are often called magical. There wasn't as much brutality here as in his other books - I'm

It is not hardship for me to believe that Sjon is a poet as he creates pictures with just a few well chosen words. So in this relatively short piece he is able to give all the background necessary for me to imagine Mani's Reykjavik in 1918. I did not need elaborate descriptions just his few paintstrokes.

I'm left in admiration at how he honours his family, his Iceland, intertwining it with the Boy's story and opening my eyes that people at that time where fighting another war, a war with a deadly
This is the first book I've ever read which is set in Iceland, and it was surprising how beautifully this book was executed.

This is a story of homosexual boy who sleeps with men for pleasure; his love for cinema; the icelandic transformation, the Spanish flue and the chaos following through.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Máni Steinn is a young gay man in Reykjavik, in 1918. The novella is really a capture of a moment in Iceland's history when the cinema is new but also instrumental in spreading the deadly Spanish flu. This is the last year of non-independence for the island country.
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
This is the first book that I have read by Sjon.

A novella set in the end of WW1 in Iceland and also through the Spanish Flu.

Mani Steinn our protagonist is 16 years old. Gay. Movie goer. Who comes of age during this period and through him we see a side of the Icelandic society that's less well knows to others.

The novella does contain graphic homosexual sex scenes that are quiet long in some chapters regarding this is a short book.

The prose is beautiful and the translation is very flowing and
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded up.

This fast-paced short novella (there are a LOT of blank pages and white space, so it can be read in little over an hour) combines fascinating histories of Iceland's independence, the Spanish flu epidemic, the early movies ... with the queer sensibility of an outsider observing it all. [Side note - for someone married with children, Sjón certainly writes convincingly erotic homosex!] The surprising ending only further elevates what is already an astonishingly assured work, even in
Conor Ahern
The reviews for this short novella seem pretty polarized between people who have it one star and failed to finish, and those who gave it five stars and were enthralled by the big reveal on the final page. I made it to the end because I read this for a book club (god help us), but clearly was neither as impressed by the storycraft nor gobsmacked by the reveal.

Its just a spare, poetic set of vignettes covering the Great War-era goings on of an Icelandic hustler. Not much to it, from my vantage.
Sian Lile-Pastore
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtqi
This a short, easy to read book that I read in about an hour (walking to work and back). It's about a gay teenager who gets cash for 'entertaining' gentleman, and it's also about cinema and film, and the Spanish flu.

It's set in 1918 in Reykjavik (tho to be honest I wasn't really feeling the historical side of it) and is quite a powerful little novel that is almost fable-like. The stuff about everyone dying from the Spanish flu was great, and mid way I thought ohhh the flu is an AIDS metaphor and
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translation, fiction
the defining literary characteristic of icelandic novelist/poet sjón's fiction may be the seemingly effortless way he builds atmosphere within his stories. though most of his books tend to be slight (in length, that is), sjón nonetheless excels at crafting an essence that pervades the story and lingers well after its conclusion. so it is with moonstone: the boy who never was (mánasteinn: drengurinn sem aldrei var til), the fourth book to be rendered into english from the one-time björk ...more
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
And now the boy lives in the movies. When not spooling them into himself through his eyes, he is replaying them in his mind.

A beautiful novella that packs a lot more than one thinks it would. I'm happy I went into this not knowing anything about it. Well, apart from hearing somewhere it was called the "gayest book in Iceland". It is, of course, so much more. No doubt I'll be rereading it in the future. The translation from Icelandic seems expertly done, so if you're looking to broaden your
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Arresting opening blowjob scene aside, this got boring very quickly. Bailed early due to the lifeless prose. Im not sure who to fault,the translator or the author, but this is a 142-page novel that shouldve been 141 pages shorter. ...more
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Sjóns Moonstone is a deceptively simple novella. It follows a 16 years old boy in 1918s Iceland. The country is still recovering from the aftereffects of the world war, volcano Katla is spewing ashes and to top it all, the Spanish Flu that killed many in Europe, sweeps across the country and people are dying like bugs. Beginning with a rather graphic gay sex scene between an adult and a minor, the novel quietly shifts its focus to how the island's devastated by the flu - thousands are killed and ...more
Hákon Gunnarsson
1918 was a terribly eventful year in Icelandic history: the year began with the worst cold in years, then there was the Spanish flu, Icelanders voted for independence from Danmark, the volcano Katla erupted, and so on. It was also a time when being gay was illegal in Iceland. All this is in the background of this novella that tells the story of Máni, a 16 year old gay Icelander living in Reykjavík.

Its a short book, a novella, and in many ways thats a good thing. I didnt feel anything was there
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My knowledge about Icelandic writer Sjón is through the musician Björk. Namely that they have collaborated quite a few times. Moonstone is the first time Ive read one of his novels.

One sign of a great book is when the reader is transported into the world, the writer creates. I think all readers know that feeling.

Thats how I felt reading Moonstone.

The setting is Iceland 1918, theres the first world war going on (which is going unnoticed), the eruption of the Katla volcano and the Spanish Flu is
Apr 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book earlier today, it's now 10:30pm and I'm still thinking about it. I wrote that I felt that I was reading a description of a dream someone else had, but now I feel that I'm the one dreaming.
I'm not much for poetry. I never have been. I must be too sensible to understand it. This book reads like poetry, or maybe lyrics. It's graphic, but ambiguous at the same time. It reads like historical fiction, then morphs into something else. Fantasy? Magical Realism? These seem too
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In clear, quiet language, we follow Mani Steinn, a gay teenage hustler with a passion for silent films, who survives by making himself essentially invisible. When the Spanish flu hits Reykjavik, he is one of the relatively few who survive it, making him much more visible in a depopulated city. I'm always amazed by little books like this that convey so much feeling without being emotional. The last five paragraphs knocked me over.
Vivek Tejuja
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Moonstone the Boy who Never was by Sjón (pronounced Shawn) came to me in a boxful of other books. My eye rested on this one, because I had heard a lot about the authors previous book The Whispering Muse. I wanted to find out for myself what the whole fuss was about this writer and his style. Let me tell you at the very onset that Moonstone will for sure be one of the top 10 books I would have read this year. Hands down!

It is the kind of book that doesnt let you be till you are done with it. It
Jul 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: net-galley-arc
First off, thank you very much to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


I started reading this at work.

Probably not the best idea due to the content of the opening scene, but buckle up!! I strapped myself in for the next hundred or so pages.

The novella's protagonist is a young gay boy living in Iceland around the time of the Spanish Flu epidemic in/around 1918. Mani Stein is immediately an interesting character and he only gets
Nancy Oakes
I loved this book. Not only does it satisfy my craving for out of the mainstream different, but by the time the end came rolling around, I was just plain floored, not just by the story, but by the absolute, sheer beauty of the writing. If you don't know Sjón's writing, he is the master of short but downright deadly (in a good way) and thought-provoking novels. In this novel he's outdone himself -- jeez Louise, the writing is just brilliant here.

The most striking thing about this book, in my
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How to describe Moonstone? Certainly is presents a slice of momentous Icelandic history as the Katla volcano erupts, Spanish flu invades the island killing 100s, and Iceland moves from Danish territory to sovereign nation in the latter months of 1918. Witnessing these events is the title character Máni Steinn (Moonstone), a gay young Oliver Twist-like figure, as he moves through the fringes Reykjavík society. But this is no dry history. No, through Sjón's wonderfully spare (only 142 pages) yet ...more
Friederike Knabe
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After feeling somewhat taken aback by the opening paragraphs, I was drawn into the story. Set against the backdrop of the end of WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic the story is told by a teenage boy who creates his own world between reality and (film) fiction. Don't want to give much away about the boys surroundings or dealings to survive... life in Iceland was difficult and hard for many people, still, dreaming could help at times. Its depiction leaves the reader to imagine the lives and time ...more
While well-detailed (the account of the outbreak of Spanish flu in a country as isolated as Iceland is quite interesting) and well-written, this is rather slight. As Sjon's tribute to a beloved gay, cinema-loving friend/relative (not quite sure which) this is touching and very sweet, but not quite enough to make a fully-rounded story.

A pleasant read but not essential.
SUSAN   *Nevertheless,she persisted*
I think my reading experience was literally lost in translation. I was unable to connect with the characters or the storytelling.
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Sjón (Sigurjón B. Sigurðsson) was born in Reykjavik on the 27th of August, 1962. He started his writing career early, publishing his first book of poetry, Sýnir (Visions), in 1978. Sjón was a founding member of the surrealist group, Medúsa, and soon became significant in Reykjavik's cultural landscape.

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