Ghost Moth

Michele Forbes

Ghost Moth
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Ghost Moth

Michele Forbes

Ghost Moth will transport you to two hot summers, 20 years apart. Northern Ireland, 1949. Katherine must choose between George Bedford - solid, reliable, devoted George - and Tom McKinley, who makes her feel alive. The reverberations of that summer - of the passions that were spilled, the lies that were told and the bargains that were made - still clamour to be heard in 1969. Northern Ireland has become a tinderbox but tragedy also lurks closer to home.

As Katherine and George struggle to save their marriage and silence the ghosts of the past, their family and city stand on the brink of collapse…


Swimming in the Irish Sea is bound to tempt Celtic gods and mythical creatures that seduce or destroy. Selkies are said to live as seals in water, yet shed their skins on land seeking those dissatisfied with life … and thus Ghost Moth opens with Katherine Bedford almost drowning in the face of a seal – whose eyes ‘hold on her like the lustrous black-egged eyes of a ruined man’ – that her husband, watching from the shore, never sees.

It is summer 1969 and Katherine is married to George with four children living in Belfast. A council worker and firefighter, he is constantly called out to battle the increasing violence and arson across the city. They are one of the few Catholic families remaining in the neighbourhood and tensions are flared. Schoolchildren are getting belted and their daughters – Maureen, Elizabeth and Elsa – start to fear the world around them. It’s against this backdrop that the narrative swings, returning to a summer twenty years before when Katherine was singing in Bizet’s Carmen and young lovers were courting. Here we meet Tom McKinley, the master tailor, who is head-over-heels for Katherine – already engaged to steadfast George. The stage is set for tragedy, however the emotional punches are diffused across characters, the strongest of which rests upon Elsa’s relationship with her mother and how she will emerge as a young woman in this new – not so pretty – world of troubled Belfast.

This is Michèle Forbes’s first novel, and it comes highly praised by her Irish compatriots – Roddy Doyle, John Banville and Anne Enright – echoing their talent for shining light upon the ordinary and domestic. The book’s imagery overshadows its plot and colours moments of sentimentality, yet it allows the lyricism to work its way beneath the skin, until you are unsure who has changed and who is to blame for this difficult and desperate history of family and country.

Luke May is a freelance reviewer.

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