Modern Lit: The Sister, by Poppy Adams

Moth Woman


  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Pub. Date: June 17, 2008, available for pre-order
  • ISBN-13: 9780307268167
  • 304pp
Clive Stone is a lepidopterist – one of the most respected in the field. And, when she grows up, his daughter Ginny follows in his footsteps, first as his assistant, then as a renowned specialist in her own right. Clive’s wife Maud is his direct opposite – vivacious to his staidness, extravagant to his self-containment, warm to his reserved. And second daughter Vivien takes after her mother. One happy family divided right down the middle.
Why then, having been expelled from prep school, does Vivi abruptly leave the bucolic (if somewhat creepy), Victorian mansion that the Stones call home? As The Sister opens, that is the central question, because Vivi is about to return after an absence of nearly 50 years, most of it filled with silence. Narrated by Ginny, whom the villagers eye warily and refer to as “The Moth Woman”, as the story progresses, more and more questions emerge, usually heralded by a trenchant remark by Ginny. And chapter by chapter, the ambience grows menacing. Some of the turns and tangles that drive this plot are foreseeable, and some less so. But its mood develops increasingly gothic undertones, sinister and stony. It is obvious that Ginny is mentally ill, but what of the other members of this strange quartet?
The Sister is not a comfy family saga, but despite it’s menacing aspect, the narrative sometimes grows too introverted and rather flat. The detailed information about lepidoptery in parts is repulsive. But its ending truly comes as a shock, an unanticipated solution to Ginny’s disturbed emotional state. To which sister does the title refer? I’m still trying to decide.

2 thoughts on “Modern Lit: The Sister, by Poppy Adams

  1. sophie says:

    I would assume that by the hints the author drops about Ginny’s mental state, that she has a either OCD, Autism, or both. She was socially awkward, but had the ability to focus her intelligence on the study of moths to an obsessive degree. She was not able to understand or even experience emotiions; as a child the family doctor “played games” with her to attempt to teach her emotions by showing her flashcards of people in different situations. This is an exercise that is helpful in teaching autistics how to read facial expressions and cues. Her family may have attempted to sheild Ginny from her disability but it ended up causing more damage in the end because it seems that both Vivien and her mother secretly resented Ginny for ruining their lives by being different.

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