Review: The New Moon’s Arms

Nalo Hopkinson’s The New Moon’s Arms is that rarest of fantasy novels: one that is clearly, inarguably speculative in a way that informs everything the novel does, but one that also focuses closely on the life of a single character in the manner of litfic. Our Heroine is Calamity, a 53-year-old woman who lives on the fictional Caribbean island of Dolorosse. When she was a child, she had the ability to find lost things. Now, as she goes through the menopause, she’s finding that ability is coming back – her hot flushes inevitably cause something lost to reappear. At first that’s small things: a beloved old toy truck. But her ability becomes harder to hide when she brings back, for instance, her father’s old cashew grove.

Calamity’s ability to find lost things corresponds with a rekindling of relationships in her own life – the novel charts her hesitant journey towards rebuilding her fraught relationship with her daughter and the rest of her unconventional family. Calamity is not an immediately likable character: she’s homophobic and biphobic (which the novel is quite clear in condemning) and profoundly stubborn, she refuses to accept help and she can be relied upon to say exactly the wrong thing in any given situation. Hopkinson recognises all these flaws, and still makes her a sympathetic character, capable of change and compassion. That’s not something fantasy achieves very often.

The focus for this rekindling, anyway, is her discovery of a lost toddler, Agway, apparently the survivor of a terrible storm at sea. Nobody seems to know who Agway’s parents are, though, and his webbed feet and hands make Calamity wonder about his heritage. She adopts Agway, and their developing relationship is the emotional core of the novel, the engine by which Hopkinson explores her relationships with her family and friends and her feelings about menopause.

This is a novel that’s all about change, then (but then, aren’t all novels?): the changeable sea is at its heart, and the permanent upheaval that is menopause. I like that it figures the menopause not as an ending but as a beginning, a chance to develop new loves and new attitudes, to start again. Everything is potential in The New Moon’s Arms, which I think is why Calamity is bearable as a character: we have a sense that she doesn’t always have to be this way, that it doesn’t have to be true what they say about old dogs and new tricks. There are threads that aren’t neatly tied up; there are things left ambiguous, open to re-reading. Hopkinson’s world is one that is multifarious, strange, neither one thing nor the other; it’s one that deals in hope even when things seem irrecoverable. We need more novels that can hold such complexity.

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