André Alexis
Coach House Books, 2019
224 pages

Days by Moonlight follows botanist Alfred “Alfie” Homer as driver and research assistant to his parent’s friend Professor Bruno, a biographer searching for the mysterious poet John Skennen.

The publisher’s website describes it as “Gulliver’s Travels meets The Underground Railroad: a road trip through the countryside – and the psyche.”

Alfie is ever hopeful and constantly surprised as they encounter towns where Black residents speak only in sign language or that hold Indigenous Parades; it is a land of werewolves and witches. 

Days by Moonlight is a Dantesque journey taken when the sun is setting and makes us question what is real.

As Alfie and Bruno meander through rural southern Ontario discovering Skennen’s life and poetry through encounters with eerie landscapes and strange interviews with barbaric townsfolk, they visit sex museums and take in competitive house-burning rituals, never really sure if what they are seeing can be trusted.

Alfie’s recent loss of his parents and separation from his partner set the stage for his own healing journey as themes of loss, love, and longing wind through his inner monologues. While he listens to interviewees’ stories of the illusive Skennen, he considers the unsettled affairs he left in his wake and draws pictures of plants both real and implausible. 

These botanical illustrations, included in the book, reflect the nature of Alfie’s grieving, as well as the flora of southern Ontario. Poetic examples by the fictional John Skennen also appear throughout to further reinforce the book’s layered themes.

The book is short and immersive, easily read in a single sitting, but it gives readers ample opportunity to pause and reflect on the philosophical questions posed by the narrative. Readers will want to revisit sections and will be rewarded with new ideas hidden in deceptively simple details.

2019 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize jury said, “With the dream-like touch of a magical realist, Alexis carries us away on a profound and hilarious drive through small-town Ontario as it’s never been seen before …. It’s a journey where the spiritual meets the commonplace and the bizarre, the underworld comes up for air when you least expect it, and the Divine patiently watches over all.” It was also longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Quill and Quire called it, “A mash-up that is part fabulism, part faux biography, and part satire.” 

Days by Moonlight is Alexis’ fourth title in the Qunincunx Cycle, a non-linear series of five connected novels that explore some of the same themes, locations, settings, and characters. The series includes Fifteen Dogs, which was longlisted for the 2019 Giller Prize and won the Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize in the same year. Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Ottawa, but now calls Toronto home. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other books include Pastoral (nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), Pastoral, Ring, The Hidden Keys, Asylum, Beauty and SadnessIngrid & the Wolf, Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa and Lambton, Kent and Other Vistas: A Play.