The British documentary filmmaker’s first novel is an engrossing psychodrama that spans the unsettling week during which estranged siblings reunite in a crumbling English country mansion.
The Stones have inhabited Bulburrow Court—a Victorian pile in Dorset, complete with turrets and bell tower—for four generations, but now only elderly Virginia (Ginny), known locally as the Moth Woman, lives there, surrounded by ruin and decay. As a girl, Ginny shared her father Clive’s obsession with lepidoptery; she considers herself well known in the field and still engaged in research. Younger, livelier Vivien (Vivi) escaped from the claustrophobic atmosphere, taking a secretarial course in London and a husband, Arthur. Ginny is unworldly, doesn’t like strangers and once considered herself the keeper of family secrets: her mother Maud’s violent alcoholism and her infertile sister’s request for her to bear a child, leading to a surprisingly tender series of sexual encounters between Ginny and Arthur. But is Ginny merely dispassionate and introverted, or more seriously deluded? What does Vivi want, returning to the mansion after nearly 50 years, and is her claim that Clive murdered Maud all those years ago the truth? In this deceptively low-key effort, Adams does a skillful job of teasing the reader’s comprehension and sympathies, especially for narrator Ginny, whose inner landscape ranges from the logical and meticulous, to the pathetic, to the deeply disturbed.
Skewed perspectives can seem more farcical than chilling, but Adams keeps control in this dark, gothic debut.