Billy Moon by Douglas Lain

Find in catalogReading “Billy Moon,” by Portland author Douglas Lain, is a bit like wading through a Dali painting. The “Billy Moon” of the title is a reimagined version of Christopher Robin Milne, who was used as a literary character by his father A. A. Milne, in his four Winnie the Pooh books. Chris Milne was called “Billy” by his parents as he was growing up, and when he was a child, mispronounced his surname as “Moon.” In Lain’s literary reuse, Milne is an embittered British bookseller who, in the midst of a midlife crisis, travels with his imagined family to the turmoil of Paris in 1968. As Lain explains in his introduction, this is not the book for anyone seeking a biography of the actual Christopher Robin.

Lain intertwines Chris Milne’s experiences with those of a created character, Gerrard Hand, who is a French university student and disciple of Guy Debord, also a character in the novel. In real life, Debord’s Situationist International group influenced the Paris student uprising of 1968. A surreal version of the student revolt, including future echoes of the recent “Occupy” movement, provides the setting for much of the novel.

Other main characters include William, a charming real bear from the Paris zoo, and Natalie, Gerrard’s sometime girlfriend. Natalie’s personal revolutionary assignment from Debord – which seemed to me peculiarly limiting – is to live “authentically” by acting out the sex life of the character Cécile in Françoise Sagan’s novel “Bonjour Tristesse.”

A somewhat challenging read, the novel is an unexpected exploration of the nature of reality and memory, looking at and below the surface of experience. Characters sink through the floor as it turns to mud, the landmarks of Paris vanish, and in a moment of crisis that each character faces, Natalie for example realizes “she was in an empty space, an interstice between the life she’d been born into and a possibility.” Not all survive.

The book ends with a multiplicity of alternative probabilities. You will either delight in the language play and philosophical explorations, or you’ll find it heavy going. For me, while I found much of the book interesting and engaging, in the end it disappointed, crumbling like a fantasy built of mud and illusion. – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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