Ghost Moth – Michele Forbes
4 stars – one to watch
Ghost Moth is the debut novel of Michele Forbes, an Irish actress who has already written several critically acclaimed short stories.
Overall, I found this a very promising debut novel with flashes of brilliance and a poetic heart at its core. It’s a deeply moving examination of the minutiae of everyday life parts of which echo the author’s own life experiences. There are two narrative strands, both set in Belfast ; the first in 1949 where a young woman, Katherine Fallon, finds her pleasant relationship with the sure and steady George Bedford is shaken when she meets the charismatic tailor, Thomas McKinley. In the 1969 story we know that she is married to George and has four children but is it a marriage of convenience?
I loved the 1969 story, with the unsettled nature of the Bedfords’ relationship mirroring the uncertainty of a city on the brink of civil war. George, in his role as a part-time fire fighter, sees the burgeoning violence first-hand. Elsa, Katherine’s youngest daughter, faces increasing hostility from other local children as the Bedfordshire are Catholics in a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood. Forbes excels at portraying the ebb and flow of family life : a day trip to the seaside, a back garden fair to raise funds for the “black babies”, how to find your role within the family. In the midst of all this change Katherine seems stuck in the past, unable to move forward.
The 1949 Katherine is a totally different character, embarking on an affair despite being happily settled with George after a two year relationship. You know it will all end badly but it is difficult to feel sympathy for Katherine and nigh impossible to work out what motivates her to make these life choices besides just drifting into them.
The Bedfords seem like an ordinary family but within their “ordinariness” you will find extraordinary ripples making you think of the nature of love – between mother and child, between husband and wife, between siblings. Does love have to be showy and passionate to survive the passing years? Forbes makes you see under the surface, to what really matters.
I really enjoyed this condidently written debut novel and found some sections extremely moving especially towards the end of the story. Some parts, especially in the early stages, seemed overwritten and this had a jarring effect on the flow of the novel but fortunately this was the exception rather than the rule. I am looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.
PS Which cover do you prefer? Am I alone in having an extreme dislike of the one on the right??