Angela Meyer’s novels cross genres in interesting and inventive ways. Her first, A Superior Spectre, was both dystopian and historical, set in the near future and in 1860s Scotland. Her latest, Moon Sugar, is described as “Helen Fielding meets John Wyndham” and involves a single woman in a science fiction world.
There’s a “black hole” in personal trainer Mila’s life. Her relationship has ended, she wants children and her parents are ageing. She “seeks intimacy but … attracts surface”. Recently she’s filled this hole with a young lover, Josh, hired through a Sugar Mamas website. Together they’ve joined a secret drug trial of irradiated lichen. But Josh isn’t good with secrets – as we learn when he vanishes, presumed dead, in Berlin.
Mila has fantasised 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 Josh’s friend Kyle and together they “sleuth”, following Josh’s movements as he “had drugs and went out”. When Mila returns to Melbourne, lichen has increased her perception. Kyle smells of his “ancestors squashed down inside” his DNA and the Australia she sees has “the ages … superimposed, now and then … the slashing of trees, the paddocks and buildings and the white figures with guns”.
Meyer creates suspense through questions about the 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 become involved. Her world is nearly realistic, and relationships are realistically confusing. For instance, does Mila have a special connection with Josh or is it a simple financial arrangement? Mila is not always drawn so clearly and her ambivalence about aloneness can be confusing. For instance, she doesn’t want to sit in her room and think about “death, murder”, but just a few pages later she does exactly this.
The novel refuses to simplistically moralise. It’s nature itself rather than a drug that gives Mila an early rush. Meyer’s drug developer, Lisa, provides a counterpoint to Mila, and is skilfully drawn, appearing sympathetic despite her wealth and power.
While Moon Sugar is a work of sci-fi, its strengths lie in what it says about believable characters chasing love and surviving loss, while learning to ignore conventions that might get in the way of finding intimacy or recovery.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 22, 2022 as "Moon Sugar, Angela Meyer".
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