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on 13 March 2012
It's difficult to know how to describe this book. The story is told in Acts rather than Chapters, opening with a cast list which includes `The Velvit Gentleman' credited as Anton Konstantin; `Mum/ Shut-Up' as Joan King, and `Welsh Slapper' as Gwen Llewelyn. Confused? You will be.

Ostensibly it's about a woman who's just been released from prison. She lives in stark poverty in a shabby room in a shared accommodation unit where the other residents are intrusive and a little scary, all with their own demons and anti-social behaviours. She is constantly waiting for her giro to arrive, fishing teabags out of the bin and struggling to eat and keep warm.

The reader, of course doesn't know how she got to this point, though very early on we are given a glimpse of a police interview where she admits to shooting a man called Quentin Sumner (Eton Boy in the cast list). Her story is then recounted in flashback, starting with her childhood and slipping in and out of different stages in her life.

Don't mistake this for a misery-memoir type of novel, though there's abuse and violence enough to fill a whole series of them. The protagonist, Lulu, who takes on, or is given, a range of names and identities throughout the book, is a funny, stoical, almost Dickensian little urchin. She survives a dysfunctional childhood, living on her wits. A gift from her grandfather, a book about Africa, inspires an alternate existence as a Masai warrior in the universe of her imagination. The wasteland near her home becomes the Masai Mara where she hides in the long grass and constructs elaborate dens in the trees. She speaks her own hybrid dialect and interprets the reality around her with a combination of childlike innocence and watchful suspicion.

The state fails this child abysmally. The police attend her home so frequently to deal with domestic violence that they come equipped with chocolate, but don't think to remove her to safety. The secure unit she is eventually placed in is chaotic. Officials are well-meaning but nobody has the wit to rescue her. But it's more than a social-conscience novel. It's both horribly real and magically surreal. The story encompasses a psychiatric hospital where she hides out as a juvenile absconder, passed off as a caretaker's daughter; an episode of a horse kept in the living room by Gwen (Welsh Slapper) that our heroine has to bulldoze down the wall down to liberate; armed robbery in a casino, and a trekking holiday to Africa to discover the Mountains of the Moon, another location that loomed large in her childhood imagination.

If you want your rewards from reading this book you have to be prepared to work for them. There's the dialogue, the shifting back and forth in time and place, the multiple identities of Lulu - or Catherine, Louise, Kim, Mitten, whatever you would like to call her. The crossover between fantasy, hallucination, misconception and reality, Lulu's' fractured mental state, the sweeping cast of characters, the struggle to piece together what's going on at any given time etc etc.

Is it worth the effort? Absolutely yes. harrowing in places, but this book reminded me why I love reading so much. It's not just a passive activity. It can make you feel alive again. This is a wonderful piece of writing. Inventive, creative and imaginative. There's nothing hackneyed or forced about this book. I think great art gives us a new way of looking at the world and the perspective here is so unorthodox and original. And incidentally I love the cover illustration, a little bit quirky and children's storybook gothic which matches the content perfectly.
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on 17 April 2014
I came upon this book by chance, and was sufficiently intrigued by the previous comments to read it, and am very glad that I did. It is a challenging read, using at times a slightly strange dialect, but it is easy enough to get used to. The material is also uncomfortable, dealing with a young girl, ignored and badly used by her own mother and a violent stepfather. She escapes from the unbearable reality of her life into a fantasy of the Masai Mara, inspired by a book given to her by her Grandfather, who has provided a taste of normality and love in her childhood.
The story jumps between different periods in her life, including school, prison, other institutions, and employment. Her name changes many times, as she reinvents herself, and characters, some good, many bad, come and go. The story is a bit of a puzzle that gradually builds into a more complete picture, but it is a book that requires your attention, you don't get told much twice, and there is not a single thing in the story that is predictable.
Someone else has commented that it is in parts unbelievable. I hope that every bit of it is fiction, but I guess that there is a lot in this story that it would be hard to make up.
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on 15 July 2012
It would be ridiculous for an unpublished writer like me to give this novel anything less than five stars as it is a work of literary genius that I expect to see nominated and shortlisted for countless prizes. Written in the voice of its protagonist Louise (or Lulu or any one of a number of aliases that she acquires in her extremely eventful life) Mountains Of The Moon records her troubled childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in a series of flashbacks that jump sometimes apparently at random from period to period.

The brilliance of the book is in the storyteller's exceptional use of language; turn to almost any page at random and you will find beautiful images "our legs cut through stripes of sunshine", "the corridor is dark, wooden, fitted together like a puzzle". One of my favourite authors Caroline Smailes writes with this artistic flair and Louise's use of "flip flop" to describe her walking echoes the narrator in Smailes' Like Bees To Honey and makes me wonder if I. J. Kay is also a fan.

The development of the voice from child to teenager to young woman is expertly done - the vocabulary expands, the words become more properly formed and sentences more coherent and logical as she grows up. In short I can only admire the author's skill in creating this novel.

Having said all that, I have to say that the novel did fall down for me on the story. As I said above, it is the story of a troubled life; our protagonist is from a broken home and she is hardened to life although she has a softer side and yearns to visit Africa's Mountains Of The Moon and the Masai Mara (places she has learned about from her beloved Granddad's book and recreated in her childhood on wasteland near her home). I had problems in finding certain scenes credible. I won't spoil the book for you but these included an adolescent period in an institution, an encounter with a taxi driver and an incident with a horse. I can cope with one or two things in a book causing a raised eyebrow but I did feel that there were a few too many times that the author stretched my credulity.

Don't let this put you off reading it though. As a piece of art it is truly a tour de force.
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on 22 March 2012
This is an amazing book. It's sometimes hard to understand because of the shifts in time, but it makes the reader do a lot of work and I like that. Nothing is told to you, you have to work at it to find out what is going on. But, what makes it worthwhile, is the engaging character of Lulu and the awfulness and weirdness of everything around her. And all the time the central character stays bright and positive, with some hilarious asides and dialogue.
Do, do read it.
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on 15 March 2012
I bought this book in downloadable format after seeing a favourable review. I shall now buy it in book form too so that I can lend/give it to friends. Quite remarkable and very difficult to describe - assured, funny, painful, witty, perceptive ... Who is A J Kay? Surely a woman! She moves effortlessly between Lulu, an 11 year-old girl, and a woman in her twenties with many names! An exciting début.
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on 21 January 2016
An excellent novel crammed with feelings and sensations from a troubled childhood and the struggle to live in the world as a young women alone. Great evocation of childhood and beautiful memories of loving siblings overcoming the adult world of violence and neglect. I really hope this author is working on her next book.
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on 9 March 2012
Against all initial expectations following the start this book became one of the greatest and much loved reads i've ever had. Please please finish this book its encapsulates you. Well done I J Kay Thank you.
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on 22 August 2013
A hard read to begin. Possibly the most accomplished debut i have read. An extraordinary read. Brilliant. Complex. Unforgettable characters. Absolutely bowled me over.
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on 25 January 2013
One of the most accomplished and interesting books I have read by a first time novelist. Thank you I K Jay
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on 4 May 2016
Interesting read. The main character's sharp, gutsy and a true survivor living in a harsh 'sink or swim' environment.
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