Review: The Behaviour of Moths- Poppy Adams

So many people have criticised Poppy Adams’ debut novel The Behaviour of Moths. Vague and confusing were some descriptions amongst many, but I thought it was a compelling and tantalising gothic mystery that deserves more credit than it has been given.

The novel opens with its narrator Ginny standing at the window of her mansion, waiting for her sister Vivien who she has not seen in 40 something years, to return home. We don’t know why Vivien, or ‘Vivi’, has chosen to return after so many years and we are not given an explanation. Her return to the crumbling Victorian mansion ‘Bulburrow Court’ evokes memories for Ginny and often the reader is given a story of what has happened in the past. The children of socialite Maud and passionate lepidopterist (or moth collector) Clive, it seems the sisters were once very close as children. Quiet, awkward Ginny seeks approval and affection from the bubbly and enchanting younger sister and it’s clear that clever, bold Vivi is the favourite daughter with their mother Maud. From the beginning you find yourself questioning why it was that Vivi left, and what happened to disrupt what used to be a normal family.

I can’t really explain all the events that happens after Vivien’s arrival as it would completely spoil the book; it can get annoying after a while in its long descriptions of moths and lepidoptera but aside from that, it really is a gripping page turner with an intriguing mystery. One shocking suprise after another is revealed and from the moment Vivien arrives, the novel is set for a dark tale of sibling rivalry, tension and suspense that begins to question which of the two sisters has completely lost her grip on reality:

‘three days ago my memory of life was of a complete and happy event- a blissful childhood, a warm, loving family, a blossoming career, but Vivien’s walked into my head and littered it with doubt and anger and turbulence. The past I used to know has melted before my eyes into something writhing and fluid, with no structure, no scaffold. I can never again think of my parents, my childhood or my life without the stains she’s spilt all over them.’

It’s obvious that we can’t really rely on Ginny as the narrator since she’s either very eccentric or may have asperger’s syndrome. She is one puzzling and complex character. Can we simply attribute this to her madness, if she is mad? Or is it Vivien who is mad?

The novel leaves so many things unsaid and there are various loose threads that are never explained. There is no answer to this deep, dark novel. The reader must assume or form the opinion themselves of what has went on and who is really mad. Whilst many readers have found this annoying or irritating, I thought it was fantastic and very craftily done by Adams; it’s maddening depth of vaugueness and lack of answers all contributed to its sense of mystery and charm, leaving the impression that the dark secrets kept within the family and gothic mansion, will always remain dark and delicious secrets.

A beautiful and disturbing novel, with madness, love and destruction at its core. I recognise that it is not for everyone, but if you like a gothic mystery that is steeped in suspense and obscurity, then it is an engrossing read that keeps you guessing long after you’ve put the book down.

Rating: 4/5

Do I recommend you to read it? Yes because it’s a great gothic mystery. But if too much vagueness or unanswered questions annoys you, then it’s a no.

Genre: gothic mystery