07/09/2012 11:38 am ET | Updated Jul 09, 2012

The Book We're Talking About This Week: 'Mountains Of The Moon' By I.J. Kay

"Mountains of the Moon" by I.J. Kay
Viking, $26.95
Published on July 5, 2012

mountains of the moon

What is it about?
The story is told in a series of flashbacks as protagonist Lulu ventures to the Mountains of the Moon, a stark African mountain range she fantasized about as a child. She's just been released from a 10-year stay in prison, but her troubles didn't begin there: Growing up with violent parents, Lulu's youth was plagued by psychiatric visits and crime. Throughout the novel, she attempts to rebuild herself under a new alias.

Why are we talking about it?
Although the topic is grim, the prose is imaginative, playful and fresh. The book begins uniquely by listing a cast of characters, and that piqued our interest.

Who wrote it?
This is I.J. Kay's first novel. She was born in Suffolk, but currently lives in Bristol and The Gambia, West Africa.

Who will read it?
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.

What do the reviewers say?

The Wall Street Journal: "...The puckishness of the just-kidding pen name is the first hint of the ingenious, disorienting levels of fantasy and fabrication that coexist in the book... Like William Faulkner's famously demanding novels, its nonlinear scenes provide almost no contextual grounding. Sometimes the only clue about the time period being described is the sophistication of Louise's language, which evolves from a peculiar childhood slang to more standard English."

The Guardian: "'Mountains of the Moon' is not in any sense an easy read. Kay makes great demands on the reader, and apart from a handy cast list at the beginning, offers few concessions to those struggling to weave the various strands into a vaguely comprehensible whole. It is a bold decision, especially for a debut novelist, and one that I fear may deter some readers, but those who persist will be well rewarded. By the end of a second reading – and it took me two readings, I'll admit – there's a sense of having experienced something genuinely unforgettable."

Impress your friends:
Ancient Greek geographers discovered that The Mountains of the Moon, a range in central Africa, is the source of the White Nile. They were given their name by natives at the time because they are white and snow-capped.

Opening line:
"Three keys: one for the main entrance; one for the letter box on the wall outside and one for my brown front door, which comes complete with fist holes and crowbar dents around the lock."

Notable passage:
"I washes, dries up, cleans the cooker, wipes the cupboards, sleeps the floor, clears the table quick ready for when I arsts to go out.
'Get the Monopoly,' Mum says.
I int going NO where.
'I'll be the banker--and the Car," Bryce says.
Pip's the Iron.
'I'll be the Boot,' Mum says. 'Whoever the shoe shall fit I'll marry the boot. She always does Cinderella wrong. Game is good till I get Mayfair and Bryce tips the board over. No one don't say nothing. The Baby Grady laughs like a best joke ever and Sheba comes out from under the sofa, does swirls on the money and hotels. I try to make polite."