Posted in Reading, Writing

“A Good Way of Putting Things”

Early in the novel Mountains of the Moon, Louise Alder recounts how her teacher Miss Connor read Louise’s (Lulu’s) story aloud in class because Miss Connor “reckons I got a good way of putting things” (65).

Mountains of the Moon (2012)

Author I. J. Kay (a pseudonym) has a good way of putting things as well. But that good way of hers makes for no easy read. Though the first American edition of her debut novel appeared last July, it’s no beach book. Kay’s fractured narrative forces us to read carefully for shifts in diction and setting that signal the age and whereabouts of Louise (a.k.a. Kim, Beverley, Jackie, Dawn, and Catherine) through a parade of squalor that ends with her release from prison for a crime she may or may not have committed.

Confusing? Yes, but keep reading. Chances are, you’ll find yourself less confused. And more and more impressed with Kay’s achievement.

At thirty-one, after her ten-year prison stint, Louise travels to Uganda to see up close those mountains she first saw as a child in the pages of her book on Africa, a gift from her grandfather.

As a young teenager, she receives another book as a gift from a father figure. “The Velvit Gentleman,” as she calls him, a surreal sugar daddy—Professor Higgins and lover—gives her Lord of the Flies, which she slings across the floor of the psych ward after reading the death of Piggy.

“I wouldn’t have given it to you if I’d thought it would upset you so much,” Anton, “the Velvit Gentleman,” says. “Will you continue with it, though?”

“Seems rude not to,” Lulu answers. “Was a shock how bad I believed it. You said it was fiction, lies, but it int. It int.”

“Good,” Anton says. “That’s the point; stories tell lies in the service of truth” (287).

Kay’s own lies in the service of truth ring truer than those that shock her protagonist. Lulu’s no middle-class kid stuck on an uninhabited island. Donning a Masai’s red cloth and wielding a spear or not, she’s more warrior than any of Golding’s boys.

What makes her a warrior? The mountains (of the title) that dwell in her imagination, the ones she dreams of and writes about on wallpaper “wonky where the pattern is bossed” (87) to counter violence, poverty, and neglect.

Though flawed as all novels are—and undoubtedly some of its shortcomings escaped me—Mountains of the Moon shines with fresh language, Kay’s “good way of putting things,”  that invigorates Louise’s story, reminding us of what novels can achieve but rarely do.

Kay. I. J. Mountains of the Moon. New York: Viking, 2012.

4 thoughts on ““A Good Way of Putting Things”

  1. Hi Jane, your review made me want to read this book. It sounds intriguing. Probably hard to write, as well as to read.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks, Lenore. It’s challenging but rewarding. I do recommend it; the writer is a great stylist.

  2. Thanks for writing a great review of this work of great literary importance. It bothers me a great deal that Kay hadn’t gotten the attention she deserves simply because we live in a world of lazy readers. I have tried and failed to get quite a few intelligent people to read this wonderful novel to no avail simply because the book is challenging. Still anxiously awaiting her next novel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s