The OF Blog: Best of 2007 Countdown: Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon's Arms

Monday, December 17, 2007

Best of 2007 Countdown: Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon's Arms

I held the pin up against the sunlight. It caught a spark of light, threw blades of sunshine at my eyes. It had gotten warped over the years, forced into service to hold up Mrs. Winter's loose drawers. It used to be a decorative pin for wearing on a blouse, its gold wire looped in the shape of an ornate C, T, and L: Chastity Theresa Lambkin. My girlhood name. Mumma'd given me that pin for my eighth birthday. Years ago, after they'd declared Mumma dead and we'd had the memorial service for her, little Chastity-girl me had noticed it missing. And missing it had stayed; no time to look for it in all the commotion of the hearing, of moving to my aunt and uncle's, and the children at school whispering to each other whenever they saw me.

This passage from near the beginning of Nalo Hopkinson's fourth novel, The New Moon's Arms, introduces not only an important plot element (the "finding" or "returning" of "lost" objects from lead character Chastity - now Calamity's -life), but also gives a bit of the Caribbean/West Indies "flavor" that features so prominently in Hopkinson's novels. Chastity/Calamity has recently entered menopause and at her father's funeral (where the quoted scene takes place), she finds a pin lost in her childhood. Over the course of the novel, she begins to rediscover a sort of "finding" power that she had lost when she first menstruated.

The New Moon's Arms is the sort of fantasy for those who claim that they don't read fantasy but who might be caught reading Beloved. Things happen, but the focus stays squarely on Calamity and those patient friends/family of hers. She is not the nicest of people. She can be quite rude and hateful, with twinges of self-doubt and pity mixed in. A very honest liar, Chastity has dropped her Christian name for that of Calamity to signify just how turbulent her life is. But when a little two year-old child is found washed ashore, covered in seaweed, Calamity is forced to confront a lot of bothersome things about herself. Hopkinson does this quite well, making the focus of the story the continued growth and struggles of Calamity as she tries to raise little rescued Agway.

The various relationships (good and bad alike, with Calamity often playing the villain with certain characters) are well-drawn and the "magic" in the discoveries (culminating with the discovery of a mysterious young boy abandoned on the shore of Calamity's fictional Caribbean island) ties in directly with issues of maturation and the changing effects that loss can have on an individual over the course of a lifetime. While the "magical" elements in The New Moon's Arms are low-key and not explained, they provide an extra layer of meaning to a coming-of-maturation tale that is among the finest that I have read this year.


Anonymous said...

I'm lazy, so rather than ask Google I'm asking you: is this a stand alone book?

Larry Nolen said...

It is. All of her books are stand-alone.

Anonymous said...

You, sir, are like unto an oracle of sweetness and light. Or somefink.

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