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Posts from the ‘Adam Scovell’ Category

History as Amnesia: Adam Scovell’s “How Pale the Winter Has Made Us”

How_Pale_sales_cover

‘… I am a voluntary exile, a wanderer by design, unwise with a purpose, everywhere a stranger and everywhere at home, letting my life run its course where it will, rather than trying to guide it, since, in any case, I don’t know where it will lead me.’
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey

How often is the main character of a novel a city and not a person? In Adam Scovell’s new novel How Pale the Winter Has Made Us, the first thing we see (after the epigraph from Goethe quoted above) is a reproduction of a 19th century photographic postcard of the cathedral of Strasbourg, France towering over the roofs and chimneys of the city. Isabelle, our narrator, who is staying in Strasbourg while on break from her university, has just learned that her father has committed suicide back in London. She is living at her partner’s apartment while he is conveniently on business in South America. Stunned by the death of her father, a failed painter, and at war with her “harridan mother,” Isabelle contemplates extending her stay in Strasbourg indefinitely. The idea comes to her “to stay in the city, and in some sense map it.”

And so it is that Isabelle spends the winter alone in Strasbourg, exploring its streets and its history. As a scholar, perhaps it’s natural that she pours herself into research as a way of dealing with the mixture of grief and guilt she feels over her father’s death and her failure to return home to help her mother deal with the estate. Isabelle wanders, sits in coffee shops, and examines antiques. Eventually, a sense of melancholy settles in as Isabelle begins, in a strange way, to enjoy her isolation and loneliness, as she explores the lives of some of the intriguing citizens of Strasbourg’s history, several of whom Scovell has conveniently invented. Read more

Sebald Program on BBC 3’s”Free Thinking”

Sebald walking

“W.G. Sebald as the narrator”
© The W. G. Sebald Estate

BBC Radio 3’s program Free Thinking has recently put out on episode that includes a nice segment on W.G.Sebald. The first 18 1/2 minutes of the 48-minute program, “Sebald, Anti-semitism, Carolyn Forche” is devoted to a discussion of Sebald by Adam Scovell, Philippa Comber, Dr Seán Williams, and host Laurence Scott. Here’s the full blurb from the program’s website:

Adam Scovell, Philippa Comber and Sean Williams discuss the influence of the German writer WG Sebald who settled in Norfolk. His novel The Rings of Saturn follows a narrator walking in Suffolk, and in part explores links between the county and German history and emigrants. “Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald’s East Anglia,” an exhibition celebrating the work of the author W.G. Sebald on the 75th anniversary of his birth runs at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 10 May 2019 – 5 January 2020 in collaboration with The University of East Anglia. Adam Scovell is a film critic and author whose new novella is called Mothlight. Dr Seán Williams is a New Generation Thinker who teaches Germanic Studies at the University of Sheffield. Phillippa Comber is the author of Ariadne’s Thread – In Memory of W.G. Sebald and “In This Trembling Shade,” ten poems set to music as a song cycle.

 

Mothlight

mothlight

I needed her to say the words, I needed her to spell it out. But the conversation continued, driven by useless bits of information.

Adam Scovell’s Mothlight is a quietly unsettling novel narrated by Thomas, a young academic lepidopterist who specializes in studying and collecting moths. Growing up, Thomas was obsessed with two elderly women—Phyllis, a professor of entomology and a collector of moths, and her sister Billie. At first, Thomas’s obsession revolved around a mystery—why did Phyllis treat her sister with such open disdain? “What had Billie done, I thought, that Phyllis Ewans considered so awful as to behave so coldly towards her?” After Billie died, Thomas became the elderly Phyllis’s caretaker, and his obsession switched to something else entirely. “Our lives were somehow mimetic of each other,” Thomas noticed that he and Phyllis shared a “synchronicity.” Then, when Phyllis dies, Thomas inherits her house and her extensive moth collection. But her death “cast my obsessions into a startling cage from which I could not escape.” He feels that Phyllis’s memories are starting to intermingle with his own and that she is sometimes eerily present, even touching him. His obsession is now an illness and to cure himself he decides he must unravel the mystery of Phyllis and Billie. Read more