Poppy Adams' first novel shows touches of brilliance
The Behaviour Of Moths - renamed The Sister for the American market - is a real head scratcher. As you read it you find yourself willing it to be brilliant. There are some great passages and clever twists. But it never quite satisfies.
Adams' debut made the Costa shortlist in 2008 and, perhaps more significantly, was featured as a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime.
(Only in Britain, in the cosy confines of Radio 4, could anyone think that 'A Book at Bedtime' was a reasonable name for a programme aimed at people over the age of eight...)
I'd not come across it when it came out, but it was nominated (twice I seem to remember) for our book group. The discussion which followed sums the book up I think. People loved it, in parts. But most of us were left frustrated by the questions that weren't answered and the oddities of the narrative.
The book is about two elderly sisters, reunited after 40 years in the crumbling mansion where the older sister, Ginny, has always lived. She is a lepidopterist - she studies moths and Adams regales us with a huge amount of detail about the history of this subject and its technicalities (sometimes too much) - and appears to have a great many deficiencies when it comes to social skills.
The latter makes her interesting, but it also makes her inconsistent. She is a classic unreliable narrator, but her prose - Adams' prose, rather - is so well composed and her insights often so sharp and clear that you are left wondering what exactly her problem is. There is a sense that the bridge is down, somehow, between Ginny and the rest of the world but we are never sure quite why. The problem is, I'm not sure Adams knows either. If I was convinced she did, then I think I'd rate this book more highly. As it is, this is a terrific first novel, but a dissatisfying one.