Book review / The moon in your pyjamas

Moon by Jeremy Gavron, Viking, pounds 13.99 Eskimo Kissing by Kate Moss e, Hodder, pounds 15.99

Jeremy Gavron's choice of title for his brief, pretty first novel is either brave or plain lazy. Moon - the word tastes of languorous, bovine sensuality; but as a title, it just sounds like half a song. Moon is a Bildungsroman set in Fifties Kenya; the white narrator, from a framing perspective of middle age, remembers growing up on his father's farm. When he is nine, there being a dearth of boys his age to compare pet lizards with, he falls in with Ernest, the young Kenyan man who works as his father's driver, and so begins the chronicle of a troubled friendship.

Ernest, a cheerful, clever fellow, is magically talented under the bonnet, fixing up his employer's tractor and Chevrolet like a dream; he wants to study engineering at university. His hopes crumble when he is arrested during the Emergency. He gives a speech in the street about the white man flying off to farm the moon, which the police read as an encoded incitement to revolution. The narrator - whose name, annoyingly, we never discover (this isn't Nabokov, after all) - knows that Ernest really was talking about farming the moon, in visionary-engineer style, but the little boy keeps silent.

Meanwhile, there are exotic trips to Nairobi, a leopard-hunt, and soft- blooming but horrible family revelations. All such episodes are written lucidly and simply, the tone occasionally rising to a muffled rhapsody: "He was lulled by the sapping heat and the slow breathing of the sea, rising and falling like the lungs of the world." And the moon itself features as a slightly over-freighted symbol of various characters' wistful hopes for reparation or regeneration. Moon manages to suggest more than it actually says. Guileful and touching, it reads like a promising warm-up.

That sort of minimalist aesthetic is hardly up Kate Mosse's alley. Mosse - the indefatigable organiser of the Orange Fiction Prize - has written a book which, in brave defiance of convention, regales the reader with every item of cutlery nervously rearranged, every fag puffed, every Double Decker tongued by her characters as they go about the plot.

Named after that charming habit that teenage girls have of rubbing their noses against other people's, Eskimo Kissing tells the story of twin sisters Sam and Anna, growing up in the late Seventies with their adoptive parents. Sam is the plump, tarty one who goes to discos; Anna is the thin, clever one who stays at home with her violin. Then, when they are 17, Anna is killed in a coach crash (the day after Sam loses her virginity, thus establishing a novel link between sex and death). This spurs Sam to find her real parents, entailing trips with her boyfriend Peter (inventively characterized as having "no waist"), and multiple tearful head-to-heads in dingy cafes and flats.

At Mosse's back looms the potent contextualizing force of popular culture. How do we know it's 1981? Why, "The Specials released `Ghost Town'", how else? Along the way, Mosse has fun, choosing her words with what seems like no effort of thought at all. My favourite neologism was "blahhed" (for "said") - decidedly le mot juste for how her characters converse. The larger structure is massaged into place with brief asides on the philosophy of colour: "Green is the colour of history", "Scarlet is the colour of loving", that sort of thing. Such devices convince one that there must be more to the book than a few under-imagined persons sproinging through hoops of amateur research.

Ever mindful of some readers' fragile sensibilities, Mosse builds happily towards a resolutely unsurprising climax. But it is only after the final page that one can appreciate the true purpose of Eskimo Kissing. You see, Mosse cares about adoption, so the book is not merely a made-up story, but also a kind of adoption manual - she prints two pages of "useful addresses" to write off to for information or advice. Indeed, what is the point of literature if you don't know where to go for counselling afterwards?

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones