The Behaviour of Moths, By Poppy Adams

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The Independent Culture

The self-consciously quirky title might be off-putting, but by the time you reach the end of this dark, atmospheric novel, one sees how apposite it is. Reclusive spinster Ginny Stone lives alone in her crumbling, furniture-less mansion. When her younger sister comes to stay, her life changes and secrets of the past bubble to the surface.

Ginny and her sister are daughters of a famous lepidopterist, and Ginny has continued the family tradition; thousands of moths are captive in glass cases in the upper rooms of her house. Poppy Adams has done her research and you could learn a lot about moths from this novel. But they are in there for a reason: they exemplify determinism. Moths are mini automata, responding to stimuli, incapable of choice. The implication is, so are we. Prisoners of our pasts, we differ from moths only in the degree of our self-awareness.

This isn't a novel that breaks literary ground but Adams does deftly handle all the devices that appeal to the book-group readership: unreliable narrator, time-shifts and carefully timed revelations.