Mothlight
“The idea was lost but the memory was here.”Phyllis Ewans, a prominent researcher in Lepidoptera and a keen walker, has died of old age. Thomas, a much younger fellow researcher of moths first met Phyllis when he was a child. He became her carer and companion, having rekindled her acquaintance in later life.Increasingly possessed by thoughts that he somehow actually is Phyllis Ewans, and unable to rid himself of the feeling that she is haunting him, Thomas must discover her secrets through her many possessions and photographs, before he is lost permanently in a labyrinth of memories long past.Steeped in dusty melancholy and analogue shadows, MOTHLIGHT is an uncanny story of grief, memory and the price of obsession.

Mothlight Details

TitleMothlight
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 1st, 2019
PublisherInflux Press
Rating
GenreFiction, Horror, Biology, Ecology, Adventure

Mothlight Review

  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    To my knowledge, Phyllis Ewans has only two great preoccupations in her long life: walking and moths. An interest in those same two subjects also grew within me after a number of years of knowing her; such was the power of her influence.  My predominate preoccupation today is with the study of Lepidoptera for my own academic research, and it was solely thanks to her that I followed this pathway.  It dominates my life - that is, of course, when I am not plagued by my illness. Adam Scovell’s Mothl To my knowledge, Phyllis Ewans has only two great preoccupations in her long life: walking and moths. An interest in those same two subjects also grew within me after a number of years of knowing her; such was the power of her influence.  My predominate preoccupation today is with the study of Lepidoptera for my own academic research, and it was solely thanks to her that I followed this pathway.  It dominates my life - that is, of course, when I am not plagued by my illness. Adam Scovell’s Mothlight is published by small independent Influx Press, 'committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction from across the UK and beyond', and winner, with Eley Williams’s stunning Attrib. and other stories, of the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize. Mothlight is surely a contender for the 2020 edition.  The novel's title is a nod to Stan Brakhage's 1963 4-minute film, albeit one produced without the aid of a camera, of the same name (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mothl...) and it is narrated by Thomas: his name taken from the photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, itself based on a short story by Julio Cortázar.As a child, and via his grandparents, Thomas became acquainted with two elderly sisters, Phyllis Ewans, with her twin obsessions of walking and moths, and her sister Billie. Billie is very different, clearly glamorous and successful with men in her youth, and there is a strong tension between the sisters, based on some long-standing resentment of Phyllis towards Billie for something, which they don't want to discuss, that happened in their mutual past. Their modest house in the Wirral is full of Phyllis's specimens, and the air swirls with the mist of the scales from the moths' wings. But Billie's room is very different:The air had a mist that was perceivable in the white rays of sunlight drifting through the murky net curtains.  But - and I considered this even then - the mist was not fragments of wings from decaying Lepidoptera, but the disturbed remnants of powdered make-up.  In many ways they were scaled of another deceased creature.When Billie needs care, Phyllis refuses to provide it, leaving Thomas's family to have to step in, and when Billie dies, the two families become estranged. Phyllis soon after moves to London and Thomas loses touch with her.But Thomas finds that Phyllis's twin obsessions soon becomes his own. He often visits Snowdonia, where Phyllis loved to walk, and becomes a professional lepidopterist. When he also moves to London, to take up an academic post, he manages to re-establish contact, and the two otherwise very lonely people find they have a mutual kinship.But as Phyllis and Thomas talk, the personal boundaries between them evolve: There is little need to relate the extensive details of such conversations, as they were almost always framed around walking and moths but, with an unnerving regularity, I was plagued by a constant sense of deja vu. This pervaded in both directions, by which I mean I recognised many of her memories of walks in the country and the capture of moths but, also, she greeted my memories with recognition too: as if we were one and the same through experience.   This was not some kinship between people of similar backgrounds but a crossover that grew more alarming with each story, each moment becoming no longer my own. Scovell has been rightly praised by Robert Macfarlane and Benjamin Myers, master of the art themselves, for his sense of place, and the novel very effectively evokes the Wirral and, particularly, Snowdonia. It felt less successful to me in evoking the (South-?)London setting, where Phyllis ends her life and Thomas his account, but that was perhaps deliberate as neither character (nor the author?) really feels at home there.Thomas begins to have hallucinations, hearing the beating of moth's wings behind him, seeing the dust of their scales where others can not, visions that began as a child as Billie's funeral but now return, and also sensing the presence of a female hand holding his own. And after Phyllis dies, he takes on the task of sorting through her things - both her collections of personal photographs and her moths - becoming obsessive in his desire to catalogue and put everything in order, his work at the department taking second place, and also increasingly finding that he seems to places and people in pictures he has not known personally: My illness required the methodical repetition of behaviour ... the trapping of an obsessive compulsion, locked into an order that could not be broken.When he finally tracks down, via a succession of clues, someone who knew Phyllis when she was younger and might be able to help unlock him from his obsession:Heather still refused to say what I need to be said, what I had known all along from the memories that I had shared.  I just needed her to say it.An excellent novel and one that builds on its many influences to create something unique.Scovell has acknowledged the significant influence on his work of two of my all-time favourite authors, W.G. Sebald and Thomas Bernhard (both authors obsessed with walking):I think the majority of the voice techniques come from European fiction of the post-war period. Sebald was and always will be the biggest influence on my writing, but the main voice that dictated the OCD recursions in Mothlight was Thomas Bernhard. I don’t think I’d have the bottle to write fiction the way I do without having read him, and he’s probably the closest a writer has come to recreating my own “head voice”. In particular, the way Bernhard uses repetition to lock you into the tics and worries of his narrators is really quite astounding, and you can definitely see what Sebald took from his writing as well. The influence of Sebald is clearest in the heavy use of photographs whose excavation forms a key part of the book. In the novel the photos are those of Phyllis and Billie, but in reality they were photos the author inherited from two sisters that he got to know via his grandparents, on whom the fictitious characters are based. None of the photographs include any moths, in practice as the real-life "Phyllis" was not a moth enthusiast, but it also makes for an effective and unsettling technique to have the moths so central to the text but absent from the illustrations. But the narrative voice, if anything, reminded me most of one of Ishiguro's self-deluded narrators. Robert at one point chides himself for speaking in a horrifically English and repressed manner, and while realising he is mentally ill, still retains unrealistic hopes that all will be well once he has finished his obsessive re-cataloguing: I would no longer be considered ill, or met with worried looks and glances from colleagues. On the contrary, I would be respected, and would have earned that respects through. the work done with this vast collection of mounted moths.There is also a strong element of the weird/folk horror, which the author himself attributes to the influence of writers such as M.R. James.The novel ends with a quote from Virginia Woolf, and Orlando seems a clear reference as gender fluidity is a key theme, alongside memory. And a motif running throughout the book is the parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in the cocoon of the moth, which one can take, although the book leads the reader to draw this conclusion, as a symbol of the relationship between Phyllis and Thomas. Scovell also acknowledges the influence of Deleuze, so his concept of the orchid and wasp would also seem relevant.Useful sources:https://www.instagram.com/mothlightbook/ - colour version of some of the photographs in the bookhttps://celluloidwickerman.com/2019/0... - the author's own round up of reviews and interviewshttps://celluloidwickerman.com/2018/1... - a film trailer for the bookhttps://thisissplice.co.uk/2019/02/06... - the This is Splice interview from which the Bernhard and Sebald influence quote is takenhttps://celluloidwickerman.com/2018/0... and https://celluloidwickerman.com/2017/0... - examples of Scovell's own writing on Bernhard and Sebald
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  • Adam Nevill
    January 1, 1970
    British weird fiction. Contains many of my own aesthetic interests: the English landscape, peculiarly charged domestic spaces, a suggestion of the uncanny and a mind unravelling at the heart of it all. Restrained, precise, perceptive writing. Lovely looking paperback too, with flaps.
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  • Jackie Law
    January 1, 1970
    Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside other creatures, such as a pupating caterpillar, where they will hatch and feast on the host from the inside out. These body snatchers are referenced in Mothlight – a darkly atmospheric tale of a young academic, Thomas, who becomes obsessed with the past life of an older acquaintance from his childhood.Thomas first meets Dr Phyllis Ewans when, as a young boy, he accompanies his grandfather to the home she shares with her much older sister, Billie. Thomas not Parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside other creatures, such as a pupating caterpillar, where they will hatch and feast on the host from the inside out. These body snatchers are referenced in Mothlight – a darkly atmospheric tale of a young academic, Thomas, who becomes obsessed with the past life of an older acquaintance from his childhood.Thomas first meets Dr Phyllis Ewans when, as a young boy, he accompanies his grandfather to the home she shares with her much older sister, Billie. Thomas notices the dust and disorder in their terraced house along with the many mounted moths hung on the walls. At first he is more taken with the faded glamour and financial generosity of Billie. Phyllis shows little interest in the child until she decides to share with him the details of one of her moth specimens. Thomas is transfixed.Over time Billie dies and Phyllis moves from The Wirral to London where she continues her research in Lepidoptera. Thomas loses touch until Dr Ewan’s name is mentioned in connection with a paper being prepared at the London university where he is now working. Despite not seeing her for many years, Phyllis’s influence has been pervasive. Thomas lives alone spending what free time he has walking, collecting moths and studying them. He often visits the Welsh hills that Miss Ewan talked of so fondly. At times when he contemplates the vista he feels strangely detached from reality.On renewing their acquaintance Thomas seeks to uncover more of Miss Ewan’s personal history, in particular why she appeared to hate Billie. He draws on photographs from her past and snippets of their conversation – clues to a story she avoids telling. He recognises that, in many ways, he has followed in her footsteps. He retains an underlying impression that he has experienced the tales she shares with him. There is an echo of the uncanny in their mutual recollection of events when only one of them was there.The first person narrative offers the reader access to an increasingly disturbed mind. Scattered amongst the pages are the photographs Thomas pores over in what becomes a puzzle he feels a desperate need to solve. He recognises that he is allowing this compulsion to derail his career. He is haunted by a past he has appropriated, or so it seems.Thomas tells his story looking back after what he describes as an illness. Who is the host and who the parasite in the house holding close the lepidopterist’s secrets? The uncanny elements float through the tale like motes from the slowly disintegrating specimens. The reader cannot help but breath them in.
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  • Tommi
    January 1, 1970
    Thomas, the narrator of Adam Scovell’s quiet new novel Mothlight, is deeply affected by two things: moths, which he studies as a researcher, and the life of Phyllis Ewans, a family acquaintance who, likewise, is a researcher in Lepidoptera. Over the years, Thomas has formed a close relationship with her: “My visits were no longer those of a curious friend desiring the secrets of her past life, but those of a caring relative.” Phyllis is a taciturn, solitary woman whose past life remains a myster Thomas, the narrator of Adam Scovell’s quiet new novel Mothlight, is deeply affected by two things: moths, which he studies as a researcher, and the life of Phyllis Ewans, a family acquaintance who, likewise, is a researcher in Lepidoptera. Over the years, Thomas has formed a close relationship with her: “My visits were no longer those of a curious friend desiring the secrets of her past life, but those of a caring relative.” Phyllis is a taciturn, solitary woman whose past life remains a mystery even for Thomas. To fill the gaps, he sets out to learn about her history via photographs, which are abundantly presented on the pages of the novel. (There are some thirty photographs included).Like with any preoccupation, there is the danger of overdoing it, and the hunt for more information begins to have an effect on Thomas’ psychological wellbeing. There are hues of a looming mental illness when, for instance, he starts to hear the wingbeats of moths in unlikely places, like here during the funeral of Phyllis’ sister:The thought of such a skein of moths took a great hold over my senses at the funeral, and I remember imagining that same flock constantly and chaotically flying close behind my shoulders. This would be the first of many such occasions when what can only be described as an attack took hold of my senses and rendered me useless. The priest conducting the service spoke slowly and hypnotically as the coffin was lowered into the arid grave. My grandmother cried and I could hear her sobbing behind the fluttering, a cacophony gradually drowning out all the priest’s words, lost in the endless wingbeat of a thousand moths.What I’m most impressed about in this novel is Scovell’s language. His sentences tend to be long, associative, attempting verbally to catch sensations as precisely as possible. To me, there is something very non-British about it, and as much as I detest making comparisons to one particular author, I’m reminded of Marcel Proust. This is not only because of the winding sentences but also because there is something refreshingly non-masculine about Thomas, who in “moments of synchronicity” begins to associate himself with the woman, believing they are one and same person. He remarks of his body: “My hands had never been especially masculine, my whole body in fact never really seeming either male or female apart from in the most basic of ways.” An inevitable comparison to W. G. Sebald could also be made in regard to the photos included.In the end, we get to know relatively little about Thomas and his life, so engrossed he is with making sense of Phyllis. It is rare of me to wish that a novel was longer, but in this case I could easily have devoured another 150 pages or so. This is, however, more of a compliment than criticism, and a sign of an author who can write very captivatingly. Mothlight is a great example of a very focused and non-tangential novel. Moths, memory, and identity all blur together here beautifully, and I was happy to learn that this won’t be the last time we hear from Scovell, who already has a new title lined up for next year via Influx Press. The act of remembering, so I thought, is the parasite of our hopes. It is parasitic. It lives and thrives upon us, whilst we live with the delusion that we define it, when it really defines us. It hatches, it devours and it destroys us from the inside out, until it is done and moves on to annihilate another life. I decided there and then that I was not going to let this parasite devour me, considering further that this was not even the parasite of my own memory, but doubly parasitic because it was the plague of someone else’s memory.
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  • Matthew Adamson
    January 1, 1970
    In Adam Scovell’s debut novel his narrator, Thomas, tries to piece together the mysteries of Phyllis Ewan’s life, a woman he knew in youth and came to care for at the end of her days.The sole beneficiary of Miss Ewan’s will, Thomas takes up residence in her house and begins the arduous task of sorting through the articles of a life lived. Memories of events real and perhaps imagined are interwoven around photographs from her life, photographs which appear in the text.The depiction of grief is ha In Adam Scovell’s debut novel his narrator, Thomas, tries to piece together the mysteries of Phyllis Ewan’s life, a woman he knew in youth and came to care for at the end of her days.The sole beneficiary of Miss Ewan’s will, Thomas takes up residence in her house and begins the arduous task of sorting through the articles of a life lived. Memories of events real and perhaps imagined are interwoven around photographs from her life, photographs which appear in the text.The depiction of grief is handled with a deftness of touch that causes the prose to swell with emotion, without ever overstating the character’s loss and his personal sense of uncertainty in the aftermath of her death.An intriguing and often touching debut.
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  • Seregil of Rhiminee
    January 1, 1970
    Originally published at Risingshadow.Adam Scovell's Mothlight is a wonderful slice of British weird fiction that will appeal to everybody who loves uncanny stories. It's one of the most captivating novels of the year, because it's something different yet strangely familiar and compelling in its depiction and exploration of grief, loneliness, memory and uncertainty. It's an excellent debut novel worthy of attention.Mothlight tells of Thomas who becomes obsessed by the past life of the lepidopteri Originally published at Risingshadow.Adam Scovell's Mothlight is a wonderful slice of British weird fiction that will appeal to everybody who loves uncanny stories. It's one of the most captivating novels of the year, because it's something different yet strangely familiar and compelling in its depiction and exploration of grief, loneliness, memory and uncertainty. It's an excellent debut novel worthy of attention.Mothlight tells of Thomas who becomes obsessed by the past life of the lepidopterist Phyllis Ewans whom he first met when he was a boy. Thomas begins to unravel the mysteries that surround Phyllis and her life. Phyllis has lived a secret life and Thomas doesn't know everything about her, including why she seems to hate her sister Billie. Phyllis' life is like a puzzle and Thomas tries to piece things together.This novel is filled with small and significant details that add to the atmosphere and make the story haunting. The photographs that represent events from Phyllis' past are an important part of the story and offer a kind of a visual treat for the reader. As the story begins to unfold, the reader is led deeper into a world of mystery, melancholy and strangeness surrounding Phyllis.The first person narrative mode works perfectly in this novel, because it allows readers a glimpse into a disturbed and haunted mind. The author creates a distinct sense of unease and obsession, and evokes a feeling in the reader that something is not quite right. He explores what kind of an influence Phyllis has had on Thomas and how Thomas has followed in her footsteps and has taken an interest in the Lepidoptera.Being a novel largely about atmosphere, memory and grief, the author conjures up touching images about what kind of a person Phyllis Ewans is and how much Thomas is intrigued about her. The melancholy elements are handled beautifully and the author writes about them in a restrained way. Nothing is overdone in this novel, because the author steers the story away from melodrama and sentimentality.Adam Scovell writes clear and atmospheric prose. His precise and restrained writing is perceptive and unsettling. Everything is strictly controlled in this novel. The author keeps all the elements and events under control and delivers a story seasoned with grief and memory. He succeeds in creating a sense of underlying mystery that adds an additional flavour to the story.I feel that this novel will be of great interest to everybody who is familiar with the works of such authors as Robert Aickman, Timothy J. Jarvis and Joel Lane, because it has a few things in common with them. If you love gradually unfolding stories steeped in atmosphere and memory, this novel is for you.Adam Scovell's Mothlight is a skillfully written novel, one that is easy to recommend to readers who are intrigued by atmospheric and strange stories that gradually reveal their secrets. This strange and quietly unsettling novel is a haunting reading experience that stays with the reader long after the final page has been read.Highly recommended!
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  • Yvonne Davies
    January 1, 1970
    Thomas’ visits to Phyllis and her sister with his grandparents, made such an impression that it shaped his career path. Phyllis Ewans was a well-known researcher in Lepidoptera, in layman's terms moths. Years on and befriending Phyllis again until she died, he starts to piece together clues to her life.From when Thomas was a little boy, he had an obsession with Phyllis, from the 1st meeting he was fascinated with the moths displayed on the wall. As the story continues and Thomas rekindles his fr Thomas’ visits to Phyllis and her sister with his grandparents, made such an impression that it shaped his career path. Phyllis Ewans was a well-known researcher in Lepidoptera, in layman's terms moths. Years on and befriending Phyllis again until she died, he starts to piece together clues to her life.From when Thomas was a little boy, he had an obsession with Phyllis, from the 1st meeting he was fascinated with the moths displayed on the wall. As the story continues and Thomas rekindles his friendship with Phyllis, his obsession with her life takes over his. As you follow him on his journey, you are taken on a mystery that spans decades. Reading this from Thomas POV, you soon realise just how close their friendship was and whilst Thomas learnt everything he needed to know about moths, he didn’t know Phyllis. The descriptive writing, makes even the minutest detail come alive, whether it is the moths on the wall or the walks that Phyllis and Thomas go on to capture them. The addition of the photos makes the story feel more hauntingAs you read this story, the visions and the appearance of moths at unusual times, have you wondering whether he is being haunted by Phyllis or if his obsession has just got out of control. This is not just a story about obsession but a story about a young man overcoming his grief. This is the 1st story that I have read by this author and I will look out for other works.
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  • Steve Gillway
    January 1, 1970
    Strange but engrossing read into a world of moths, walking in Wales and times of unspoken pasts.
  • Rob Jackson
    January 1, 1970
    A very personal and unusual book. The style and subject reminds me a lot of The Coma or Remainder. This book draws you in and compels you to keep reading.
  • Anne Goodwin
    January 1, 1970
    Review Picturing identity: Mothlight & Trick https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post...
  • Platon P
    January 1, 1970
    https://www.pendoramagazine.com/book-...
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