One of the many twists to story telling, traditionally down through the ages, is the separation story, where the characters have parted and years later come together again, trailing different histories behind them. There are two such today from my TBR pile and also my New Author list. The second also ticks my What’s in a Name challenge as well, bonus:)
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams
The Behaviour of Moths is a separation novel. To make a story of separation appeal, another device often used, is to add a degree of dysfunctionalty, which this books has to a good degree.
This time the separation is between sisters Ginny and Viv, over a period of nearly half a century. At the start of this Gothic tale, Ginny, who lives alone in the crumbling mansion of the family home, awaits the arrival of her younger sister, Viv, who has written and declared her intention to come back home and live with her. Although generally content with her own company, Ginny has been increasingly struggling with arthritis and vanishing finances. There is an uncertainty to whether Ginny like this new plan of her sister’s or not.
The whole story is narrated by Ginny. She recalls their childhood, throughout the book, as she interacts with Viv, it is very slowly we come to realise that Ginny is in fact an unreliable narrator.
When Viv arrives it is in a breeze of energy which immediately disrupts the very dust of Ginny’s equilibrium. There is an instant realisation of tensions between the two but it is not as obvious wherefore those tensions originate. The secrets unfurled come slowly, and the ending is unexpected and somehow fitting.
It is in the interplay between sisters and Ginny’s re-examined memories that the truths of their dysfunctional lives together all those years ago become apparent. The memories stirred up are for the most part unpleasant and at times just plain nasty. This is a tale of the ambivalence between siblings and the exertions of power between parents and child.
I enjoyed this book despite the darkness present, but then I do enjoy dark:). I have always found unreliable narrators intriguing, mostly because I feel most of us, present the same unreliability, ask any policeman taking statements:) Write your own memoir and show it to your family to see how we all tend to rewrite our own histories in our minds to suit our own perceptions of ourselves. Have one delusional narrator telling the story and there is so much for our imaginations to work upon there is double the value of the story to be had. Extra value if of course the story hangs together well, and here I found that it did. I would certainly wish to read this book again, to be sure I had not missed any psychological twist or shadow.
Embers by Sandor Marai translated by Carol Brown Janeway
This is a lovely book I so enjoyed it. The first and only, so far, of Sansor Marai’s. to be translated into English – he is better known on the continent. A Hungarian by birth and a classic author in that country but he produced a great deal of his work in exile as did so many creative people during the Soviet era. Embers was first published in 1942 and only translated into English in 2000.
Embers is another separation tale. Set in an isolated castle, an elderly man, Henrik, awaits a dinner guest. A former friend of his childhood and early adult-hood, Konrad.
Konrad vanished from Henrik’s life 41 years previously, without any notice or explanation. However, Henrik has over the years worked out the cause and sits waiting patiently for this moment. He has always known he and Konrad would meet again. Much of the story unfolds as the two friends sit alone, with the memory of Henrik’s dead wife, Krisztina, at the dining table. The rest of the story continues as they sit, with their drinks, by the fire later. Civilised and well bred Henrik holds forth and in effect puts Konrad on trial. It is a trial of words, silence and evasion, as Konrad offers no defence no explanation, and meagre details of his life in the absence.
I cannot tell how accurate a translation this is but the writing is sparse yet lyrical, poetic and studied, an enticing mixture for me. It is a quiet tale and yet loaded with passions and intrigue. While it appears calm on the outer levels, and one could think nothing of note will happen, whole lifetimes are examined in meticulous and elegant detail. Emotions, class, pride, duty all are put under the microscope of Henrik’s prosecution. Always to the thread of the ultimate crime, that of betrayal.
It is a somewhat moody and dense piece of literature but I for one would like to read more of this authors work.
This book also ticks a box for the What’s in a Name challenge – something to do with Fire.