Moon sugar | The Saturday newspaper
Angela Meyer’s novels cross genres in interesting and inventive ways. His first, A higher spectrum, was both dystopian and historical, set in the near future and 1860s Scotland. His last, moon sugaris described as “Helen Fielding meets John Wyndham” and involves a single woman in a science fiction world.
There is a “black hole” in the life of personal trainer Mila. Her relationship is over, she wants children and her parents are getting old. She “seeks intimacy but… attracts the surface”. Recently, she filled that hole with a young lover, Josh, hired through a Sugar Mamas website. Together they participated in a secret drug trial on irradiated lichen. But Josh is no good at secrets – as we learn when he disappears, presumed dead, in Berlin.
Mila fantasized about following Josh to Europe and now has an excuse to go. The novel becomes a post-pandemic travelogue through places such as Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie and Prague’s Old Town. Mila meets Kyle, Josh’s friend, and together they “investigate”, tracking Josh’s movements as he “had drugs and was out”. When Mila returns to Melbourne, the lichen has heightened her perception. Kyle feels her ‘ancestors crushed inside’ her DNA and the Australia she sees has ‘the ages…layered, now and then…cut trees, paddocks and buildings and white silhouettes with guns “.
Meyer builds suspense through questions about lichen and how this new drug works and can be controlled. Does it make its users telepathic? Able to heal people? Fix the climate? Antagonistic groups get involved. His world is almost realistic and the relationships are really confusing. For example, does Mila have a special connection with Josh or is it just a financial arrangement? Mila isn’t always drawn so clearly, and her ambivalence about loneliness can be confusing. For example, she doesn’t want to sit in her room and think about “death, murder”, but a few pages later she does just that.
The novel refuses to moralize simplistically. It’s nature itself rather than a drug that gives Mila an early rush. Meyer’s drug developer Lisa provides counterpoint to Mila and is skillfully drawn, appearing sympathetic despite her wealth and power.
Whereas moon sugar is a work of science fiction, its strengths lie in what it says about believable characters who pursue love and survive loss, while learning to ignore conventions that might get in the way of finding intimacy or recovery.
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This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 22, 2022 under the headline “Moon Sugar, Angela Meyer”.
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