Fiction – paperback; Transit Lounge; 256 pages; 2022. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
Angela Meyer’s Moon Sugar is the most original novel I have read all year.
It reads like literary fiction but contains elements of speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy and crime. The blurb describes it as “genre-busting” — which is just another way of saying it refuses to be pigeonholed.
Regardless, it’s an entertaining story that addresses themes of late capitalism, desire, intimacy, grief and the pursuit of sensory experiences. Above all, it is about connection — with ourselves, the people around us and the environment.
On the road
The story is told from the point of view of 40-year-old Mila, a personal trainer, who has broken up with her long-time boyfriend and has used a sex worker website called “SugarMeetMe” to find a new, much younger, lover.
Her transactional relationship with Josh soon morphs into something more intimate, so when he dies in what appears to be a suicide during a solo European trip, her first thought is to retrace his steps to find out what happened.
Accompanied by Josh’s friend, Kyle, she goes to Germany to investigate, but her quest generates more questions than answers.
Part road trip, part detective story, Mila’s journey, which includes visits to Berlin, London and Budapest, is complicated by the mention of an “experiment” both she and Josh were involved in back in Melbourne. Did this have something to do with his death?
A page-turning novel
Meyer carefully controls the narrative, slowly revealing aspects of the experiment to keep the reader guessing. This is complemented by an additional narrative thread involving a pair of astronauts from an earlier period who discover an elixir with mystical powers. How this is connected to Mila’s present-day story does not come together until right near the end, adding to the page-turning quality of the novel.
I am being deliberately vague here because Moon Sugar works best if you go into it knowing as little about it as possible.
I enjoyed the ride it took me on, although some aspects felt uneven and a little stilted. The road trip, for instance, just felt like an excuse for the author to tell us about her own European experiences, and some of the ideas around gender fluidity, reproductive rights and what billionaires chose to do with their money felt heavy-handed.
But on the whole, the novel is a refreshing take on the human desire for deep connections — and it’s hard not to see the writing of it as a reaction to the global covid-19 pandemic when so many people endured isolating lockdowns and enforced separation from loved ones.
Lisa at AnzLitlovers has also reviewed it.
Update: For some reason, this post was not in the WordPress app and when I went to refresh it the whole post was deleted. I have rescued the copy from my laptop and republished it. Phew.