So this Sat. I was able to pick up Nalo Hopkinson’s new book The New Moon’s Arms (and get it signed! SCORE) and I finished it last night. I’ve been letting the whole thing percolate before I wrote this review.
Overall I loved it. Nalo has an impeccable way with words and the reinterpretation of Caribbean folklore is intriguing and wonderful as always. When I heard her read she described this book as being about Menopause, Mermaids & Magic. That’s all central yes, but what it boiled down to for me was transformation. It’s a journey of change for Calamity (formerly Chastity) and I liked being a passenger on this road with her.
I like the main character from the get go. She’s 53, broke, going through menopause, strong, blunt, funny and charming. She backs down from no one and takes a lot of things in stride, things that would be met with disbelief from other people. One of my major pet peeves in reading is when fantastical things start to happen and the main character is all “No, this cannot be.” through 75% of the book. A little disbelief is understandable but some authors just take it too far. Anyway back to this book, I do have to say that my favorite parts were the memories, history and island stories told in between the main story. Those bits were so great I wanted another book on young Chastity and one on the dada-hair woman.
There are however some moments that really threw me for a loop, mainly the intense heterosexism exhibited by the main character at various points. It knocked me out of the book not because I felt it didn’t fit the character but because of the vehemence. (Note: I know the author is not homophobic & that this is not a representation of her beliefs) I did wonder if the characters’ heterosexism was an overall trait of hers or because of her relation to the specific men she goes off on.
Also when I got to speak to Nalo the following night (Sunday after a fabulous reading by her, Jewelle Gomez & others at the Starry Plough in Berkeley) she mentioned that she was worried about how people who had read her other works (read: hardcore fans, read: me) would react because this was a more mainstream undertaking. Now would this be considered mainstream by most people? Probably not but I could see what she meant because compared to her other works, it is mainstream. Someone at the gathering asked her if she did that on purpose. If she had set out to write a more mainstream novel. I didn’t hear her answer but I would like to know, so Nalo if you run across this please let me know.
The pace of the book was fantastic, slow and steady it almost reminded me of waves. It was inexorable tide that builds and builds until it takes you over. I loved all of the characters, especially Ifeoma, whose story is told in the white space of the novel instead of in print.
I enjoyed living in the world of this book if only for a little while. I was engrossed in everyone’s relationships. Calamity’s relationships with her children (Ifeoma & Agway) in particular were wonderfully thought out and illustrated. It was also great to see Calamity’s interaction with other people from her past or connected to her past in some way. And I love how the whole story takes place against this backdrop of politics. Usually Nalo’s books have more politics upfront but it made sense that this would be in the background for this specific book because this was more of a domestic book than her other novels.
By callin it more a more domestic work I mean that no one is affected by Calamity’s actions except the people she knows . This is unlike Ti-Jeanne (Brown Girl in the Ring) whose actions improve life for everyone or Tan-Tan (Midnight Robber) who becomes an urban legend. This is an insular story and I think that’s what makes it feel so different from her other works.
Like I said overall I loved it and I recommend it to everyone.
4 out of 4 mermaids (stars)