The Behaviour of Moths is Poppy Adam’s first novel which follows the lives of Ginny and Vivien Stone, two sisters who live at Bulburrow Court, a mansion which has been passed through their family for decades. Their childhood closeness stagnates after Vivien moves to the city. Ginny is elderly when her younger sister decides to move back home, yet the reason goes unknown…
If any potential writers can learn something from The Behaviour of Moths, it’s in using perspective to its best potential. Adams’ novel is written from Ginny’s first person perspective, and switches from past self to current. The shifting of past to present is well thought out, and reveals parts of the story in shocking and exciting ways. Ginny and the mansion may be old and quiet now, but the past is still fresh and loud. This is a tale of dark secrets and false smiles.
The thing that made this novel stand out among the piles of charity shop books was its peculiar name (and beautiful cover, I can’t lie). The story lives up to the odd nature of its title. Adams is seen to infuse her fiction with fact. I definitely feel a lot more confident about the topic of moths, as Adams peppers her prose with meticulous scientific explanations. At the beginning of the novel, these explanatory passages piqued my interest, but as the story progressed I felt like Adams used The Behaviour of Moths to demonstrate her degree knowledge of Natural Sciences – a dissertation-esque piece. Yes, its interesting to have a perspective from a lepidopterist, which isn’t often seen in fiction. Yes, I’m aware the title references moths, but sometimes it felt like Adams was splurging out lots of knowledge when the reader knew enough already to understand the story. It didn’t really add to the plot.
On the topic of strangeness, I didn’t feel like Adams knew her protagonist well enough. Ginny was too passive and boring for my liking. She let things happen to her for the majority of the novel, rather than choosing her own path. One of the major conflicts in the story grew worse and worse because of Ginny’s refusal to seek help and speak out. Also, for a character to be so insipid all the time to then suddenly act on impulse was unconvincing and didn’t blend well with the narrative arc. If I’m honest, Vivien would have made a more interesting protagonist, although not likable in the least with her selfishness.
Adams had a clear question to answer by the end of the novel – Why did Vivien come home after all those years? Instead, Adams veered the plot in other directions for ‘dramatic’ effect. She never gave the reader a clear or satisfactory answer, or, if there was one it was too vague. The climax of The Behaviour of Moths was completely out of the blue and unbelievable. Before the ending, a passive, nonchalant tone shaped the novel. Yet the ending flipped the book on its head by incorporating horror elements. I wasn’t sure whether Adams intended for her work to be classed as horror. Sure, it’s set in a gothic Victorian mansion, but the setting wasn’t played on enough to create terror. The gothic setting could have been put to better use, there were so many boarded up rooms in the mansion. They could have been explored and added to the plot, I know I would have enjoyed that.
The structure of the novel was set in to days of the week, which felt unnecessary as the book constantly flickers from past to present. The day structure was predictable, but Ginny suddenly writing time logs towards the end of the story was strange and distorted the overall tone of the novel.
I enjoyed glimmers of this story rather than all of The Behaviour of Moths. Two stars for Poppy Adams.