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Muse's Books

Book 112: The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

UK Title Cover
Book 112: The Behaviour of Moths (US Title: The Sister)
Author: Poppy Adams, 2008
Genre: Contemporary Gothic. Sibling Rivalry.
Other Details: Large Print Edition, 340 pages

The Behaviour of Moths is narrated by 70-year-old Ginny Stone, who lives alone at Bulburrow Court, her family's suitably crumbling mansion in West Dorset. Ginny is a recluse known locally as the 'Moth Woman'. She has spent her entire life studying moths, following in the footsteps of her father, a world famous lepidopterist. The novel takes place over the course of a single weekend and opens with Ginny waiting for her younger sister Vivien to arrive. Vivien had left home forty-seven years previously and now is returning to live with her sister. Vivien's arrival prompts Ginny to relive memories of the past but her presence also challenges Ginny's view of events.

US Title Cover
This is a consciously claustrophobic novel given its setting and focus upon the strained relationship between the two sisters. As the tale unfolds, Ginny's reliability as a narrator is increasingly brought into question. As might be expected from the title there is a great deal of information about moths and the practices of lepidopterists. As someone who always tries to free moths and butterflies when they become trapped indoors and enjoys watching them, I found some of the descriptions of their experiments made quite uncomfortable reading.

This was a reading group selection for October and again was one that strongly divided opinion, with some abandoning it early on. I did read it completely but found that I was very much on the fence. There were certainly themes throughout the novel that appealed to me, such as the slow revelation of family secrets, its psychological aspects and the Gothic elements of the setting. However, overall it left me with a sense of disappointment, which may have been a lot to do with how unsympathetic I found Ginny as a character coupled with a level of frustration at how the story played out.
Tags: fiction, gothic novels, mental health

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