Mountains of the Moon: A Novel

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Overview

After a ten-year stint in a London prison, Louise Alder has a new name, a cold room, and a past full of secrets. Her story takes us back to a shattered childhood world, a runaway’s odyssey of love and madness, and ultimately to a legendary mountain range in central Africa. In Mountains of the Moon, I. J. Kay has crafted a haunting, hallucinatory, and suspenseful tale of the ultimate triumph of language and imagination, of witnessing and forgiveness. This richly imagined debut novel has garnered comparisons to the...

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Mountains of the Moon

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Overview

After a ten-year stint in a London prison, Louise Alder has a new name, a cold room, and a past full of secrets. Her story takes us back to a shattered childhood world, a runaway’s odyssey of love and madness, and ultimately to a legendary mountain range in central Africa. In Mountains of the Moon, I. J. Kay has crafted a haunting, hallucinatory, and suspenseful tale of the ultimate triumph of language and imagination, of witnessing and forgiveness. This richly imagined debut novel has garnered comparisons to the swift pacing of mystery master Stieg Larsson and the dazzling literary styles of Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 
“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

 
“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

 
“There are novels that take hold instantly, of your mind and of your heart, and fictional characters that remain with you not as a memory but as a presence. Mountains of the Moon is one of those novels, and Louise Alder is one of those characters. . . . Kay’s sentences, plain yet eccentric, have a seductive, sprightly rhythm, and her descriptions are both lyrical and tactile. . . . The novel’s suspense, masterfully calibrated, is intensified by Louise’s fantasy and by the teasing glimpses we get of the crime at the novel’s core.”—Barnes & Noble Review

 
“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 compulsively readable novel . . . 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

 
“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)

Library Journal
Kay's first novel follows the tragic life of Lulu, a character whose name changes with the circumstances of her existence. The story begins with Lulu's release from prison after a decade of internment. Despite her history, Lulu approaches one dire situation after the next with a trusting, almost guileless outlook. Those who can empathize with Kay's damaged character will applaud her journey to the Mountains of the Moon in central Africa and her lifelong battle to rise above her past. The reader should be aware that Kay's narrative often shifts without warning between past and present, creating a storyline that can be difficult to follow. VERDICT This is a challenging novel. The flashbacks and staccato sentence structure contribute to a chaotic tone. However, the book will appeal to readers drawn to unconventional works.—Catherine Tingelstad, Pitt Community Coll. Lib., Greenville, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Cruel parenting, violence and rootlessness fail to sap a young woman's spirit of survival in 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, an English child whose horribly abusive, neglectful home life deprives her of education, money, freedom and family. In spite of all this, Lulu has a full fantasy life in which she's a Masai Mara warrior living in a treehouse above the African grasslands. Lulu's perilous childhood is intercut with the story of Louise/Catherine/Beverley/Kim, the woman with many names who, after 10 years in prison, is trying to rebuild her life. The cataclysmic events that bridge these two existences emerge slowly as Kay dodges back and forth in time and style, sometimes phonetic, sometimes poetic, challenging the reader to keep up. Lulu grows up on the run, scavenging, meeting kind or thoughtless folk, working a range of jobs in various towns, living in substandard housing, sometimes suicidal. But a sudden windfall frees her to achieve her dream of visiting Africa, where she will find more threats but also friends and a kind of release. A wild, sometimes disorienting but impressively crafted novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143123453
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/25/2013
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,432,203
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

I. J. Kay has lived in West Africa and the United Kingdom, where she currently travels the waterways by houseboat. She holds an MA in creative writing. This is her first novel.

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