The Moonday Letters

Book cover: The Moonday Letters- Emmi ItärantaWhen Sol disappears after what may be a bioterrorist attack, their spouse Lumi searches for them across Mars and beyond. As she starts to examine their past in a new light, she begins to realise how many secrets they have kept from one another over the years. 

I’ve been meaning to read Emmi Itäranta for years, and the release of The Moonday Letters has finally pushed me into action (with apologies to the copy of The Memory Of Water that is still sitting on my shelf, ahem).

Sol and Lumi are two very different souls entangled in an unexpectedly successful marriage. Sol – child of a wealthy Martian family – is a biologist, laser-focused on finding a way to help Earth’s eco-system recover by studying lichens and seaweeds that could kickstart its failing biosphere. Lumi managed to escape poverty on Earth to train as a soul healer, seeking out and relieving her patients’ pain with the help of her soul animal and psychedelic drugs.

The pair have made a home in Mars orbit on the cylinder cities; but their truest home is the Moonday House, a place that exists only in their imagination, constructed of shared dreams. When they are apart, they find one another there, hearing their beloved move through a space that wouldn’t exist for anyone else.

Sometimes imagination is more important than the truth […] it expands it and makes its potential bigger.

If this sounds a little ephemeral, The Moonday Letters may not be the book for you. While we’re on long words starting with e, it is also epistolary: Lumi writes in a notebook when she travels – part letter, part diary entry – to share her experiences with Sol when she gets home. Sure, electronic messaging formats are available, but these are two self-contained individuals who are comfortable being apart, and take time to reacquaint themselves when they get home. In the meantime, they have the Moonday House.

The book begins with Lumi sharing small tales on the way home from her latest trip, but when Sol repeatedly fails to materialise at the locations they agree to meet – sending only the briefest apologies and excuses – Lumi must work harder to stay cheerful. Still, she takes it all with remarkable good grace and I found myself growing angry on her behalf, not least when she arrives at Sol’s family home to a frosty reception from his hostile sister.

When Sol disappears during an incident at their lab, Lumi reaches for her imagination to provide comfort in the absence of any facts until an incongruous detail reminds her of something her mentor used to say. She dives into her memories to trace their past lives, whose unspoken truths promise to cast light on present events.

The result is an introspective, resonant read with deeper themes woven throughout its meandering journey as it becomes clear that the Moonday House is just one of many acts of imagination and shared world-building that make this marriage work. The Moonday Letters is a delicate deconstruction of how we relate to one another, and the way couples’ lives can be simultaneously intertwined and exist in entirely separate spheres.

Grief is an animal that cannot be tamed

It also about how we come to terms with loss. Lumi’s work is to heal people who have mislaid a part of their soul; but while she can help it come home, she knows it’s never as firmly anchored. In the wake of Sol’s disappearance, Lumi – healed of soul sickness herself as an adolescent – is isolated and increasingly adrift herself. Vivian taught her that nothing was forbidden, but everything has consequences. Needing closure – or better, to find her spouse – she must decide what risks she is willing to take in her quest for truth.

Of course, Vivian’s mantra can also be applied to what Sol has been doing – and to the behaviour of humanity as a whole. The Moonday Letters provides glimpses of a fascinating future in which humanity have spread across the Solar System to thrive in habitation domes, space stations, silent cities beneath frozen seas. Yet we don’t seem to have learned from the error of our ways. Earth may have been reduced to sunken cities and themed island resorts for rich offworlders, but the debate over whether we have a right to exploit natural resources just because we have the tools to do so rages on.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Moonday Letters. I was charmed by Lumi’s imagination and capacity for forgiveness; delighted by her prickly sister-in-law; amused by her feline companion. There’s a lot to unpack from its mythical parallels to its themes of immigration, activism, love and forgiveness (of self as much as of others). There’s also glimpses of a fascinating future in which humanity have spread across the Solar System to thrive in habitation domes, space stations, silent cities beneath frozen seas.

Although the blurb promises an eco thriller, this is a tad misleading. That’s not to say there aren’t thrilling environmental things happening (there most definitely are), but they’re not exactly on-page. Instead, they are hinted at as alternate interpretations of Lumi’s memories and implicit in Sol’s odd messages; confirmed in news reports and helpful notes from a friendly journalist. I didn’t miss it – this is a rewarding read regardless that I highly recommend for readers who enjoy slower-paced, literary genre reads that provide plenty of food for thought.

Many thanks to Titan Books for providing an advance copy to review.