Mountains of the Moon
A Novel by I.J. Kay
2012 / 368 Pages
I.J. Kay has to be a (fairly awful) pseudonym, doesn’t it? I mean sure, there’s a rather brief bio explaining the details of her seemingly average upbringing and her MFA, earned from Bath Spa University. There’s even a picture included of her reading a newspaper. Still, I.J. Kay? What’s next? A.B. Cee?
Is she Irvine Welsh? You could argue a strong case for it on the basis of the novel’s flashback sequences which all utilize a form of phonetic dialect similar to that which he made famous in Trainspotting, but as dark as Welsh can be, he’s much funnier than the often times humorless, bleak text that’s found here allows for. Welsh isn’t afraid to get down and dirty, but at the same time he possesses a brilliant knack for making you laugh at the horror of it all. Kay? She just basks in the horror.
Is she Will Self? Based on the novel’s nearly impenetrable jigsaw puzzle nature, its a maddeningly frustrating way of revealing nothing while demanding more and more from the reader as it progresses, and it’s clever use of language as an art form first and a narrative device second, it would be equally as easy to make a case for she being he. On the flip side however, eventually the seemingly disparate pieces presented do come together to form a rather cohesive story, one that’s meticulously well thought out and executed with the intelligent reader in mind. Self writes for Self, or at least that’s what Self keeps telling us. Using Umbrella as my one and only reference point, I have serious doubts that he’d wrap things up in such a way as to please the reader as much as the author, whoever they may be, does here.
Featuring a rather large cast of characters, Kay’s debut novel is a tale about a damaged woman who has recently been released from prison, and her journey to, well, that part is less clear. She appears to be on her way to meet her victim and make peace with his family, but so many other things happen along the way that this seemingly crucial component to the story gets pushed to the far outer reaches.
Interspersed with her present day situation are anecdotal truths from her past. They range from early childhood, right up through the time she found herself imprisoned. As previously mentioned, they utilize phonetic spelling as a device that helps the reader to quickly identify and separate past events from the current day. This language shift is fairly difficult to deal with, not because it isn’t readable, but rather because the reader is forced to switch back and forth between styles over the entire course of the novel. As a result, it becomes a frustrating experience. Just as you’ve settled into the rhythm of the language, you are removed from it for an extended period of time, only to once again return to it, and start all over again.
Adding to the complexity of the story and the frustration is the fact that important characters will be introduced and then quickly disappear for long stretches of time. It takes an extraordinary effort on the part of the reader to remember exactly who they are, how they’re tied to the protagonist, and why they’re so important when they reappear out of nowhere without a proper reintroduction. Add in the fact that the story is being told in a non-linear way and things get even more confusing.
Ultimately, all is revealed, and there is a rather good payoff awaiting those who stick with it, but the ultimate question here becomes: is it worth the level of effort involved to get there?
No. No it isn’t.