During the hot Irish summer of 1969, tensions rise in Belfast where Katherine, a former actress, and George, a firefighter, struggle to keep buried secrets from destroying their marriage. As Catholic Republicans and Protestant Loyalists clash during the "Troubles" and Northern Ireland moves to the brink of civil war, the lines between private anguish and public outrage disintegrate. An exploration of memory, childhood, illicit love, and loss, "Ghost Moth" is an exceptional tale about a family--and a country--seeking freedom from ghosts of the past.
When I was offered the chance to review Michele Forbes' debut novel Ghost Moth, I had heard nothing about either the novel or the author before. The description was enticing and seemed to be just up my street. The debut novel of an female Irish author, a dual-time story, set in Belfast - what's not to love?
The uncorrected proof copy is a slim paperback, just 237 pages long. The first few pages are taken up with praise for this novel, from editors, publicists and managers of the publishing company. Praise that includes the words 'poised', 'effortless' 'powerful' and 'searingly beautiful' - those words frighten me! Huge praise to live up to.
There is no doubt that Michele Forbes is a very accomplished author, as a debut novel, this is outstanding. Her use of language does create a story that is a joy to read, although at times I felt that the descriptive prose could have been aimed more at her characters than at the setting. Sometimes short novels have a somewhat sparse feeling to them, but not this one.
The story centres around Kathleen, married to George, and a mother of four children and begins when she gets into difficulty whilst swimming in the sea. This episode awakens memories for Kathleen, of a time twenty years ago when although engaged to be married to George, she begins a liaison with Tom - a dressmaker who fits her for a costume.
The story flits back and forth from the late 1960s back to 1949. Personally, I enjoyed the 1960s story more than that set in the 40s. I found Tom a difficult character to envisage, or to understand why he became so important to Kathleen.
This is a story of love, of changing political climate, of secrets left unsaid. It's also a story of relationships between a mother and her children and between a wife and her husband. The ups and downs of marriage, of illness and ultimately of tragedy.
A fine debut novel, I have no doubt that Ghost Moth will make an impact on anyone who reads it and that this is just the start of a successful writing career for Michele Forbes.
Ghost Moth is published by W&N Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group on 26 December 2013 in hardback and trade paperback on 5 September 2013
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Michele Forbes is an award-winning theater, television, and film actress who has toured worldwide with "The Great Hunger" and "Dancing at Lughnasa." She studied literature at Trinity College, Dublin and has worked as a literary reviewer for the "Irish Times." Her short stories have received both the Bryan MacMahon and the Michael McLaverty Awards. She lives near Dalkey, Dublin with her husband and two children. "Ghost Moth" is her first novel