The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

When you can’t wait to start your daily commute so you have those 45 minutes to find out what’s going to happen in the book you’re reading, there’s no doubt that you’re reading a good book.

9781844084883“The Behaviour of Moths” is, undoubtably, a good book. Set in a Victorian house in an unidentified time, most probably between the second world war and the eighties, it is narrated by Ginny, one of the two sisters in a family whose precarious stability is clear from the second chapter. Ginny is an amazing narrator, talking to the reader directly and recounting everything she experiences and remembers with realism and sometimes frightening precision.

We all have our idiosyncrasies, especially at my age. Some people, on approaching old age, fear senility, others immobility, memory loss, confusion, madness. What I fear is timelessness, a lack of structure in my life, an endless Now.

A famous lepidopterist (someone who specialises their research in butterflies and moths), her unabated passion for moths is inherited from her father, Clive, and it doesn’t diminish with age. Their mansion, Bulburrow Court, is situated somewhere in England. It is gigantic, and in Ginny’s present is empty – Ginny hates clutter – and literally falling to bits. When it rains, there are waterfalls in the living room. In winter, she has to put extra covers on her bed because one of the windows broke and she never got to fixing it. The attic, transformed by Clive into the laboratory every lepidopterist dreams of, has bats living in it and everything is covered with a thick layer of dust and guano.

The novel develops over a long weekend; the weekend Vivi, Ginny’s younger sister, comes back home after 47 years. Ginny is a first worried, then excited, then happy, then anxious, then calm, then worried again. Vivi returns and finds the house quite different from how she left it, but we are never really sure of how she feels – all we know is what she does and what she says, as seen and heard by Ginny. She brings with her a dog, maybe symbolic of the outside world, that doesn’t play a very large part in the book. The past flows out of small happenings in the present, actions and visual stimuli that prompt memories in Ginny’s mind.

Moths and moth research play a central part in the novel – complete disinterest in these animals and their biology could lead to a less fluid reading of the book, but, being a Naturalist, I found the paragraphs concerning moth behaviour amazing and illuminating, especially since they are told in a scientifically correct way. Ginny’s incredibly fascination with the topic seeps out of her descriptions and these parts never becomes too much or boring.

I think that this book is amazing in a human, sociological and naturalist point of view. It has every element a novel should have: mystery, great writing, complete characters, a familiar setting, death, birth, love, heartbreak and an ending that isn’t disappointing. A must read that will whisk you away and open your eyes slowly but surely, showing you a completely different take on a handful of topics that have, at one point or another, touched every one of us.

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A baby moth (Pseudosphinx tetrio), photographed by yours truly in Martinique. For more on this little critter, see http://ecomarghe.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/pseudosphinx-tetrio-a-k-a-the-frangipani-hornworm/

 

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