Reviewed by Rod McLary
There are some novels which defy an easy classification – and Moon Sugar is one such novel. Is it science fiction, magic realism, a crime story or a romance? In some ways, it is all of these. It is a creative genre-bending novel which engages the reader from this sentence in the first paragraph: ‘A cloud takes over the sky, the light leaches away, and his gut twists with grief’ .
The plot centres on irradiated lichen brought back to Earth from a space journey on the SS Avalon twenty-four years prior to the primary narrative. As Alfred Hitchcock did with his ‘MacGuffins’ [an object which serves merely as the trigger for the plot] the author cleverly leaves the lichen in the background until its moment comes further into the novel.
In the here and now, Mila is a personal trainer who is in a relationship with Josh. Josh is a ‘sugar baby’ – he is engaged by both older men and women for sexual encounters through a website called SugarMeetMe – and has a ‘cheeky-intelligent’ smile and ‘kind and electrifying blue eyes’ . He has entranced Mila and his straight flat mate Kyle. When both learn of his death in Berlin, apparently a suicide according to the German police, neither believes it and, separately at first and then together, they decide to find out what really has happened.
Their amateur sleuthing takes them across Europe from Berlin to Budapest and back again. Along the way, they connect with ‘clients’ of Josh’s and, in an interesting twist, Kyle decides to go undercover as a ‘sugar baby’ and makes himself available for sex with clients of the website. Kyle’s altruistic offer results in information assisting them in tracking Josh.
Interspersed with the sleuthing are chapters headed ‘Twenty-three years ago’ which set out the background to the current narrative. The heart of it is the irradiated lichen of course which seems to have magical powers and in which the pharma industry has a keen interest. Its interest and its determination to gain control of the lichen add another dimension to the story. The links between the events twenty-four years previously, the irradiated lichen and the three protagonists gradually emerge as the narrative unfolds.
There are several strands to this story but what provides its soul is the developing friendship between Mila, Kyle and Josh as they successfully negotiate the increasingly threatening behaviour of pharma. As well, both Mila and Kyle discover strengths within themselves they were not previously aware of.
The author has constructed a very human and engaging story with characters with whom readers will readily connect and will become involved in their attempts to locate their friend Josh. The story’s appeal is further enhanced by imaginative writing with elements of different genres but which somehow are successfully blended together. It is a fine example of that old truism – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Moon Sugar is a novel recommended for all those readers who enjoy well-written novels on the creative edge.
Angela Meyer is an award-winning writer; her debut novel A Superior Spectre was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, the MUD Literary Prize, and the Readings Prize for New Australian Writing. Her work has been widely published in magazines, journals and newspapers.
by Angela Meyer
Transit Lounge Publishing
ISBN 978 064841 405 6