I am late. Grief has that habit of interrupting promises, attempts to return to what was the normal. Even so normal shifts everyday and with grief it lurches everyday, there was still that false aim. It was being in grief, with loss, for something I’ll never know, which introduced me to Influx Press via Paul Scraton’s Ghosts on the Shore. So, when Gary, in November 18, sent me a copy of Mothlight by Adam Scovell to consider reviewing, I thought why not. For grief is me and I is grief. But grief is like the seas, deceptively still, before the storms hit. But that is my (in)visible grief.
Adam explores a different kind of grief, a grief of haunting and obsession that occurs from knowing. Thomas and Phyllis are both moth researchers, Phyllis inadvertently influencing Thomas’ decisions regarding study and work. Thomas met Phyllis when he was a child and later re-established his relationship with her when he moves to London. Phyllis having moved to London, after the estranged death of her sister. Despite living with her sister, she didn’t care for her during her illness, Thomas’ family did. The sisters’ relationship was strained, something had occurred in the past, something unspoken in words, but clearly spoken through actions. After Phyllis’ death, Thomas is haunted by his images, his memories of her, increasingly drawn to researching her, like moths to light, and rather like in a moth trap Thomas was unable to escape on his own. The dust of crumbling moths, the noiseless beats of moth wings follows him. No one else is affected by these hauntings. No one else knows Phyllis in the same way.
Thomas’s hauntings grow as he becomes obsessive with cataloguing Phyllis’ life work and understanding who she was, via what she has left behind, her possessions and photographs, her tales of making. Thomas creates his own tale of Phyllis, a way of saying goodbye to what he doesn’t know about her, via developing a post-knowing of her. His analytic mind over the sobs of his heart is at the core of his obsession with the enigmatic woman. Moths crumble to dust instead of falling tears.
I read Mothlight back in November/December 18 and it has stayed with me, glimpses of Thomas’ unravelling mind as he loses himself in the left behind of a life, in wandering after Phyllis’ ghost, in attempts to know the person he didn’t know. The travelling to Snowdonia to attempt to stop this unravelling, to find answers to his search. Yet his search, whilst not mindless, for no search ever is, holds no logic, for it is the outcome of the tussle with losing someone he connected to, loved. Most of all, I remember the crashing of the framed dead moths.
Many review quotes note Adam’s exploration of place and whilst I could place myself in Wirral, London and Snowdonia through Adam’s writing. It is not the material places of knowing that stayed with me, rather the place we afford others in our lives, in our hearts and our minds, and whilst doing so how little we can know them. A life shared, but bounded. Mothlight, to me, is the attempting to know someone once they are gone. And that is loss.
Mothlight is available from Influx Press.