This novella by Icelandic writer, Sjon, is an interesting exploration of a young man making his way in the world. Gay and prepared to take money for favours, our hero exists in Reykjavik in 1918 when a terrible flu epidemic hit the city.
This tragedy serves as a background to a story of a young man, Mani, who is in love with the cinema because it offers dreams of another life and who becomes an apprentice to a doctor during the worst of the crisis. He goes into houses to find people at the edge of death or, in some cases, finds their corpses instead.
Mani is not ashamed of being gay and enjoys his encounters with his men as much as he likes the cinema. This is not an anguished coming of age tale or rather the anguish is confined to the terrible events in the city. Yet, there is an encounter with a Danish sailor at the independence celebrations. It is this meeting that sends his life off in another direction. Mani may be happy to be gay but he lives in a society that does not share his pride.
In such a short book, Sjon covers issues of belonging, identity and the threat on society from outside. Flu, homosexuals and the cinema all act as alien influences in 1918 Reykjavik.
There is a coda that serves to connect the story to the author. It explains, at last, the sub-title of the book: The Boy Who Never Was.