Really enjoying audiobooks this year, especially as it gives me a chance to read something I might not have otherwise.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet queen, has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. At a time when scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts who cluster around him can attest.
But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to try and contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will rock Sri Lanka.
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I think this is possibly the first book I have read that is written in the second person and I always thought it would feel strange reading it that way just because it isn’t often used, at least not in the books that I usually read. I don’t know if it is purely because of the concept of Seven Moons or if it is also because I listened to it as an audiobook but the second-person narration worked really well, it made me feel so much more involved with the story.
I’m not going to lie it was definitely the cover that caught my eye on this one, I knew I wanted to give it a shot from that alone. I often assume, and I know what they say about assumptions, that books on the Booker Prize lists are quite serious and more character-driven, so because I noticed it was a winner I thought it was going to be very serious, especially as Maali is a war photographer. Thankfully it turned out to be so much more than I expected, it was at times serious and violent but could also be humorous and magical, and whilst it is fairly character focussed there was a good aim for Maali to work toward which made for an interesting plot.
I appreciated that even though I know very little of Sri Lanka and its culture, politics, and history that I was able to immerse myself and very quickly got a grip on what was happening without feeling like the information was bombarding me. The author’s writing made each aspect of the story so engaging that I could take in the intense political divisions as well as the mythological and fantastical souls that Maali comes across in the afterlife.
Maali is such an interesting character because he seems to court danger, he is gay in a very homophobic country, for work he goes to places of extreme violence, he seems to be playing all different sides during a war, and he can’t seem to help but cheat on the beautiful boy that he loves, but he is also utterly mesmerising. I love that he is so flawed but so comfortable with himself, as a reader you know he isn’t going to always make safe choices which lends a wonderful tension in the story and, especially in the latter half of the book, had me absolutely gripped until the end.
The story isn’t entirely linear but I actually quite enjoyed that, it added to the surreal quality of the cycle of the seven moons and what was happening in the afterlife. One thing that I did struggle with, at times, was remembering who some of the characters were in relation to each other and though I would recognise the name I couldn’t always place how they related to the story quite as easily.
The narration for this book, by Shivantha Wijesinha, was fantastic, he did such an amazing job of giving the characters distinct voices which couldn’t have been easy given how many there were and it made me really enjoy my listening experience.
I didn’t expect to enjoy The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida as much as I did, it is a book that deals with so many different issues and crosses into a few different genres that on paper you might think that it wouldn’t work, but it does. It is engaging and funny and dark and I loved its creativity and its concept, a very pleasant surprise.