Book Review: Mothlight by Adam Scovell
From the mind of British Folk Horror writer/filmmaker Adam Scovell, Mothlight takes the reader on an atmospheric journey through love, loss, and life. Ashley Murphy reviews the novel and discusses the intriguing narrator.
Part ghost story, part detective fiction, Mothlight (Adam Scovell, published by Influx Press) is an unusual and compelling novel that explores memory, identity, and the limits of human knowledge. The book is narrated by Thomas, a discombobulated voice with schizoid tendencies, far removed from anything made of flesh and bone. Thomas is suffering from an “illness of Phyllis Ewans,” a compulsive obsession to uncover the mysteries surrounding his life-long friend, a woman who seemed to love nothing except walking and moths.
As a young boy, Thomas is drawn into the sibling rivalry between Phyllis
Thomas is a strange, abstracted character, both oddly present yet absent from the story he tells us. As Thomas struggles to piece together the clues of Phyllis’s life, the reader finds themselves trapped beneath another cloud of unknowing, teased by a series of subtle disclosures as to who Thomas really is, but that ultimately tell us nothing.
The relationship between reader and narrator both mimics and reflects the connection between Thomas and the ineffable Miss Ewans. When he finally learns about the details surrounding the scandal that defined the dead woman’s melancholic existence, Thomas is struck with a
Mothlight is a skillfully constructed narrative that manages to bind itself together while simultaneously coming apart at the seams. Ostensibly, Mothlight is a story about failure; in the concluding passages, Thomas’s fractured mental state is on the brink of utter collapse and dissolution. It’s a fitting vanishing point for young Thomas, a moment when language folds in on itself, where silence becomes more powerful than speech, simply because there is nothing more to be said.
And yet, despite this failure, there are signs that the Thomas narrating Mothlight is very different from the young man who lived through the mystery of Miss Ewans. It’s telling that the novel begins with the words, “To my knowledge.” Like anything Thomas reveals about himself, this does not tell us much. Yet there is a subtle suggestion that this matured narrator is reconciling himself with the limits of his own understanding, the idea that meaning or any kind of profundity must always be surrounded by mystery and silence.
Thomas is still deeply affected by his experience with Miss
Mothlight is a combination of postmodern musings on the nature of identity and a romantic, or post-romantic, yearning for “old fashioned” concepts like truth and meaning. Thomas’s voice echoes some of the real heavyweights of European literature; there are whispers of Kafka, Samuel Beckett, and Thomas Bernhard, while more contemporary comparisons include Paul Auster and the late-stage, philosophical novels of Don Delillo. It is an accomplished novel by a very skilled writer, and its pages contain enough clues to suggest that there is much more to come from the author.
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