Tag Archives: Ghost Moth

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Arsonist to Ghost Moth

Back from lovely Lille – more of which later in the week – and it’s time for my favourite meme. Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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This month we’re starting with Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist which I haven’t read but which I know from Kate’s review is about an appalling conflagration which took place in Australia in 2009 and the man who set some of the fires which contributed to it.

For obvious reasons my first link is to Sue Miller’s The Arsonist about the burning down of summer houses in a small New Hampshire town.

One of the characters in Miller’s novel is called Frankie which leads me to Barbara Trapido’s Frankie and Stankie whose main protagonist flees South Africa’s apartheid regime in the ‘60s to live in the UK.

South Africa shares a border with Zimbabwe, the setting for Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory in which the eponymous narrator tells her story from death row, imprisoned for the murder of the white man she’s been living with since she was nine.

Edgeworth Bess shares a similar predicament, telling her story via Billy Archer as she awaits sentencing for the possession of stolen goods in The Fatal Tree, Jake Arnott’s rollicking tale of eighteenth-century thieves and whores.

In Emily Woof’s The Lightning Tree a girl from one side of the tracks – comfy, middle-class, leftie activist parents – meet a boy from the other side – council estate, working-class, Thatcherite mum and dad – they fall in love, the girl heads off to India, the boy to Oxford and then we see what happens, following them into their thirties.

Emily Woof is an actor, a profession she shares with Michèle Forbes who wrote Ghost Moth, set in Northern Ireland, which tells the story of a marriage in alternating narratives, twenty years apart.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an investigation of a devastating fire in Australia to a Northern Irish love story, and this time I’ve read all but our starting point. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

Books to Look Out for in March 2017: Part Two

Top of the list for this second batch of March goodies is Michèle Forbes’ Edith & Oliver, largely on the strength of her exquisitely written debut, Ghost Moth, published back in 2014. Hopes are high, then, for this new novel which is about a couple who fall in love when she’s a pianist working the music halls and he’s touring the world performing as an illusionist. When music halls fail, thanks to the advent of cinema, these two are left with only each other and their children as glamour seeps away and Oliver’s dangerous flaws become apparent.

Katie Kitamura’s A Separation is also about a marriage – this one, as the title makes clear, so strained it has broken. A young woman leaves her husband, agreeing to keep the rift between themselves, but then finds that he has disappeared somewhere in the Peloponnese. She reluctantly tries to track him down and as she does so, contemplates what has led to the breakdown of their marriage in ’a story of intimacy, infidelity and compassion… … about the gulf that divides us from the lives of others and the narratives we create to mask our true emotions’ according to the publisher. Not very cheerful, I know, but it’s an interesting idea and I’ve enjoyed Kitamura’s previous fiction.

Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West carries on the theme of relationships and love, this time between two refugees fleeing the civil war raging through their country.  Nadia and Saeed are ‘two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing – to fall in love – in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it’ says the publisher. Hamid’s name may be familiar from his previous novel, the Man Booker shortlisted The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which I enjoyed very much.Cover image

Which can’t be said for Stephen May’s debut, I’m afraid, although I think I’m in the minority there – Life! Death! Prizes! was one of those books that everyone seem to love but I did not – however I do like the sound of Stronger Than Skin. When Stephen Chadwick sees a police car outside his house he knows why it is there and that the family life he’s carefully built up over twenty years is about to unravel. According to the publishers it’s ‘a story of a toxic love gone wrong, with a setting that moves easily between present day London and 1990s Cambridge… …compulsively readable, combining a gripping narrative with a keen eye for the absurdities of the way we live now’. Quite like the sound of that but we’ll see.

That’s it for March new books. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks shortly…

Books of the Year 2014: Part 1

It’s that time of the year again – best of this and that all over the place. When I did this last year I’d only been blogging for a few months and, foolishly, thought I’d restrict myself to a top six. It didn’t work and the so-called six spilled over into just under twenty so this year I’m spreading things out a bit starting at the beginning of my reading year which got off to a stonking start.

Paperback cover imageBy January 8th I’d already got one very fine read notched up: Michèle Forbes’ exquisitely written debut, Ghost Moth. Set in Northern Ireland, it opens in 1969 and is the story of a marriage told in alternating narratives, twenty years apart. The following week it was Fiona Macfarlane’s first novel, The Night Guest, which opens dramatically with a tiger stalking the Australian beachside house where Ruth lives. Ruth as we soon realise, is demented – a theme which seemed hard to avoid in 2014’s fiction but with its subtle incremental use of suspense McFarlane’s novel stands out for me as one of the better ways of exploring it, and clearly the Guardian First Book Award judges agreed. Unsurprisingly given its centenary year, the First World War provided the backdrop for a plethora of novels from which Helen Dunmore’s The Lie stood out for me. Dunmore, as regular readers may have noticed given that I regularly bang on about her, is one of my favourite writers, sadly underrated. Still in January, Katherine Grant’s Sedition was a treat: a bawdy, rollicking tale, set in 1794 about the subversion of male authority. It’s a hugely enjoyable novel, liberally laced with a ribald, salacious wit underpinned with sufficient sobriety to save it from caricature.

Four picks already, and I’ve only just reached February – a short month and not usually aCover image very exciting one in the publishing schedules or the UK winter, come to that. Louise Levine’s The Following Girls cheered me up with its pitch-perfect satire on adolescent schoolgirl life in the 1970s, replete with period detail and smartarse one-liners but with a nicely honed dark edge. Hélène Gestern’s beautifully constructed The People in the Photo also took me back to the ‘70s with its newspaper cutting from which two people try to trace their history. In this detective story without a detective, Gestern painstakingly leads her readers down a few blind alleys pulling at our heartstrings until Pierre and Nataliya’s stories are pieced together. Finally, at least for this post, but still in February the wonderfully imaginative Helen Oyeyemi gave us Boy, Snow, Bird, a fabulous tale of race and identity with a twist towards the end which will knock your socks off.

That’s my first seven picks of 2014. I’ve come up with twenty-one in all so two more posts in the offing, although it’s only early December: still time for additions.

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes: A beautifully expressed debut

Cover imageOnly four books into the year and two have already aroused strong feelings. David Vann’s Dirt was not a happy experience nor, I’m sure, was it meant to be given that it’s a study in what happens when parents smother their children in controlling affection, but the final section in which the mother gets her comeuppance ground on and on until I felt like I’d been hit over the head. In contrast, Ghost Moth, Michèle Forbes’ exquisitely written debut, handles love, loss and silence with a delicate, nuanced touch.

Set in Northern Ireland, it opens in 1969 with the striking image of a woman transfixed with fear at the sudden appearance of a seal alongside her and her realisation that she’s swum far too far out to sea. The woman is Katherine Bedford and Ghost Moth is the story of her marriage told in alternating narratives, twenty years apart. In 1949 Katherine becomes engaged to George, an engineer who is also in the fire service, solid, reliable and deeply in love with her. Beautiful, with a fine singing voice, Katherine is playing Carmen in an amateur dramatics production. She and Tom, the tailor fitting her for her costume, embark on a passionate affair, beginning on the evening of Katherine’s engagement to George. As the novel unfolds, snapshots of Katherine’s affair alternate with scenes from married life with George and her four children until both strands are brought together in an understanding of how the silence surrounding the events of 1949 has permeated the marriage, becoming almost a third-party in it. All this may sound a little run of the mill domestic novel but it’s very much more than that. It’s also about the coming of the Troubles which ripped through Northern Ireland in the 1970s: the Bedfords are Catholics – George, a convert – living in Protestant Belfast, something which has its little difficulties in 1949 but is enough to get rotten eggs thrown at you in 1969, and far, far worse shortly after that. By playing events through the Bedfords’ lives at the very beginning of the violence rather than putting it centre stage, Forbes makes them all the more chilling in their prefiguring of what is to come.

From its striking opening sequence to its heartrending closing passage, Forbes’ novel is beautifully expressed, so accomplished that it’s hard to believe that it’s her first. She has a knack for arresting images – the seal of the opening sequence, the white ‘ghost moth’ collectors of dead souls, a lie sitting ‘like another presence in the room, expecting to be fed’ – and her use of language is often painterly: the sun makes the family ‘all look like their faces have been buttered’. Very early days, I know, but I would love to see this on a shortlist later in the year – Forbes has already won awards for her short stories. And if the name Michèle Forbes’ seems familiar you may know her from either TV or the stage where she’s been acting since 1983.