Book Review: The Moon is Down

‘The flies have conquered the flypaper…’

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I’m a relative newcomer to Steinbeck having fairly recently read The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice And Men. While those works certainly aren’t a barrel of laughs, they are compelling and rich with the full gamut of human emotion. Being in the third year of an English Literature degree unfortunately means that a lot of my time is taken up by pretending to read Charles Dickens, or George Eliot, or Bill Shakespeare. At a measly 142 pages, The Moon is Down afforded me the opportunity to read something unattached to my degree without the familiar feeling of dread and guilt taking hold…

When a small coastal town in Northern Europe is invaded during WWII by an unnamed country (presumed to be Germany) both the conquered and the conquerors struggle to adapt to their new situation.

The Moon is Down begins with the invading army absolutely certain that all is lost for the town they have taken over and that resistance is impossible. As the novel progresses, they realise the utter futility, not just of the invasion, but of the war itself. This message, and the way it is delivered, has clearly influenced other famous war novels such as Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five. Not only that, it was also hugely popular when it was released in 1942 and published illegally in Nazi-occupied France as well as various other locations that were embroiled in World War Two. Wikipedia also informs me that The Moon is Down was the best known work of U.S. literature in the Soviet Union during the war. So there’s that.

Steinbeck’s sixth novel is certainly not his most well known, nor is it his best, but it is an entertaining and meditative exploration of war from both sides of the barbed wire. It is relatively unusual to here a war story from the point of view of two opposing armies and this grants the novel a certain freshness, even 76 years on.

The Moon is Down is a wonderful opportunity to gain an insight into the writing of one of the 20th century’s greatest authors. It also offers a snapshot of motivational literature during WWII. Perhaps most importantly, it is a short and accessible novel that is eminently readable whilst also possessing an important message.