Mountains of the Moon
By I. J. Kay
(Viking Adult, Hardcover, 9780670023677, 368pp.)
Publication Date: July 5, 2012
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A highly original novel about a young woman’s journey from shattered youth to self-discovery
After ten years in a London prison, Louise Adler (Lulu) is released with only a new alias to rebuild her life. Working a series of dead-end jobs, she carries a past full of secrets: a childhood marked by the violence and madness of her parents, followed by a reckless adolescence. From abandoned psychiatric hospitals to Edwardian-themed casinos, from a brief first love to the company of criminals, Lulu has spent her youth in an ever-shifting landscape of deceit and survival. But when she’s awarded an unexpected settlement claim after prison, she travels to the landscape of her childhood imagination, the central African range known as the Mountains of the Moon. There, in the region’s stark beauty, she attempts to piece together the fragments of her battered psyche.
Told in multilayered, hallucinatory flashbacks, Mountains of the Moon traces a traumatic youth and explores the journey of a young woman trying to transform a broken life into something beautiful. This dazzling novel from a distinctive new voice is sure to garner the attention of critics and readers alike.
I. J. Kay studied creative writing in England, where she earned an MA with distinction. She has lived in both the UK and West Africa. This is her first novel.
“Merciless and penetrating . . . a difficult and disturbing novel, a wormy nightmare pitched between hard covers. If there are Stieg Larsson-like moments, they emerge from a prose style that owes more to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Ms. Kay’s utterances here are colloquial, bumpy, bordering on stream-of-consciousness. They often seem to be scratched onto a can with a rusty nail. . . . An unsentimental yet intensely moving portrait.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Like William Faulkner’s famously demanding novels . . . multiple readings would be needed to pick up on everything Ms. Kay is doing, but even on my first time through, Mountains of the Moon was one of the most challenging and impressive novels I’ve read all year.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Imaginative, playful and fresh . . . Because of the book’s theme of overcoming a tragic past, it may appeal to fans of Stieg Larsson. It will also be of interest to those who enjoy experimental fiction, unique voices and prose that intertwines with a story’s landscape.”
“Compulsively readable . . . It’s the inimitable voice that Kay has worked out that makes Louise’s journey unforgettable, checkered with personal touches and a timbre of defiantly playful happiness that belies the deep sadness of her circumstances and the hard-boiled content of her flight from disaster to freedom. The novel’s impressive air of feminist noir and hard-knock psychological realism are merely molehills that the unusual (and personal) prose promotes to the scale of mountains.” —Publishers Weekly
“Like Stieg Larsson’s audacious heroine, Lisbeth Salander, Kay’s Louise Alder possesses an uncanny resourcefulness and spot-on survival instincts. . . . This is a remarkable novel on many levels, not only for its charismatic lead but also for debut novelist Kay’s complex plot, which repeatedly cuts back and forth in time, and multifaceted prose, which ranges from the fractured syntax of Louise’s childhood to the cinematic language of her African sojourn. A searing, soulful affirmation of the human spirit.” —Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist (starred review)
“A striking debut. Imagination can blossom in the grimmest environment is one lesson of Kay’s appealing, often painful first novel, which captures the creative language and irrepressible spirit of Lulu King. . . . A wild, sometimes disorienting but impressively crafted novel.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An extraordinary debut . . . This is a novel about one woman’s struggle for existence, both physical and psychological, and in spite of the desperate subject matter it is above all a triumphant, uplifting expression of an individual’s capacity to transcend the brutality and ugliness of everyday life and create something unique and magnificent. . . . There’s a sense of having experienced something genuinely unforgettable. . . . A bold, unsettling, uplifting novel. Read it. Then read it again.” —The Guardian
“An extraordinary and quite brilliant first novel . . . The writing is wonderfully inventive, encompassing grim reality and wild, romantic fantasy, and the true magic lies in the way the author manages to present the fragments as a funny, charming, beautiful whole.” —The Times (London)
“I. J. Kay’s remarkable story waits like a lion in the savannah, sharp-toothed and patient. . . . The reward is Kay’s fiercely distinctive voice, and descriptions of lyrical intensity. . . . Kay’s character feels everything across many registers, rendering her experience as a vivid polyphony, much of it painful, much beautiful. Even the descriptions of physical violence have a dark poetry in them that brings to mind an elemental writer such as Cormac McCarthy. For above all, in this novel as in McCarthy’s work, it is language that redeems.” —Sylvia Brownrigg, Times Literary Supplement
“An astonishingly enjoyable debut novel . . . The trust that our resourceful heroine will always survive is what allows us to take pleasure in her ingenious ways of doing so; the same pleasure, of watching a female victim turn the tables on her persecutors, which has made the Stieg Larsson trilogy so popular. There are thriller elements that add suspense to this very literary fiction. . . . Mountains of the Moon does everything that novels can do, and does them in a very original way.” —The Observer (London)
“Unputdownable . . . A singular, vividly resonant novel whose humanity will thrill, delight and engage readers. Kay writes with clarity and ease; the sheer lucidity is irresistible.” —The Irish Times
“A riveting novel, both disturbing and entertaining, with twisted low-life characters rivalling any created by Martin Amis or Nicola Barker.” —The Spectator
“A valorous and magnificent novel.” —Samantha Harvey, author of The Wilderness