To Catch a Moon by Rym Kechacha
Unsung Stories, pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
One evening in Mexico in 1955, painter Remedios Varo sits in her studio and writes a contract between the Moon and the Earth where the Moon’s daughters are responsible for writing the world and all the actions that take place on it. Without her knowledge, the world Varo creates in her contract becomes real. The Moon daughter, Luna, chafes against the contract that forces her to spend her days locked in a tower’s basement writing the world’s future in huge books. When Luna escapes, Alissa, a young woman tasked with sewing Luna’s words into life, is evicted from her home to find her. Alissa must find Luna before the last word in the final book is sewn, or the world will end.
To Catch a Moon is a powerful feminist story about breaking free from male expectations. Luna, the Moon’s daughter, is snatched from her mother’s arms at birth by Mandoré, one of the Thirteen Earth spirits who are male. Her sole purpose is to write the events of the world in large books Mandoré reads to a room of blonde-haired women to sew onto silk. The Thirteen are feared and hated by all the women in To Catch a Moon, and Luna is treated as a prisoner rather than essential to the continuation of life. Her rebellion, when it comes, is so good.
The story is told from different viewpoints starting and finishing with Varo first as she creates the contract that puts events into motion and then remembers the contract years later and wants to find it again. Each chapter moves to a different character, Alissa, Lion, Leira, who is Luna’s only companion, Mandoré, and it starts with a section of the contract. Those quotes from the contract set us up for the chapter’s events and forewarn us of when things will not go the way the characters want. There is a bittersweet overtone matched by a lyrical writing style.
There are nods to fairy tales in To Catch a Moon, most notably Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel, with Alissa taking centre stage for both. But this is not a retelling of an old story. It is a new and unique piece about the role of women in society and their fight against the ruling patriarchy with memorable characters. Not all the male characters are toxic; Lion is a foil for Mandoré, one of the thirteen male earth spirits responsible for Luna while she is on Earth. Mandoré believes in his position of superiority and despises Luna for fighting that.
On the other hand, Lion was once a man and stalked a witch who warned him that she was not for him. He ignored her and was transformed into a lion because he ignored her wishes. His new shape gave Lion a chance to think and reflect, so the man/lion we meet is different to who he was.
To Catch a Moon reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s work, which is unique and fresh. The blend of the familiar and new in Kechacha’s work was effortless, so even though this world is imaginary, it feels solid and real. Like most reviewers, I have set reading periods where I can guarantee I won’t be disturbed, but I was so involved in To Catch a Moon I went beyond that period because I needed to find out what happened next. The story’s pacing is fast, so even though the writing style is beautifully languid, pausing to note the detail in the character’s surroundings, it never felt lengthy. Quite a feat for something written in a literary style.
I had never heard of Remedios Varo before reading To Catch a Moon, and I enjoyed the story so much that I searched for her work. There are some gorgeous videos on YouTube where her work has been put to music. It’s easy to see how Kechacha has drawn her inspiration from the more surreal elements. Kechacha’s tone also matches the paintings. I believe Varo would be happy with what her art has inspired.
I would highly recommend To Catch a Moon. Its timeless quality will sweep you along in its tale of rebellion against the shackles of fate for a more hopeful future. Highly recommended.