The Night of the Moths by Riccardo Bruni * Translated by Anne Milano Appel * Format: Kindle * 12/1/17
😸😸😸½🔵 Rated 3.5 happy lap cats
The Night of the Moths, by Riccardo Bruni, translated into English by Anne Milano Appel, is a deceptively quick read. It takes place in a small Italian beach resort town, and would be a great book to take on vacation or to the beach. But, like the best vacations, it stays with you afterwards. The book and the small town it takes place in are filled with secrets that they are reluctant to reveal.
The Night of the Moths is a murder mystery, with its story partially narrated in the first person by the victim, a young woman named Alice, who is from the small beach town. Her murder seemed to be solved when it happened, but it left the entire town unsettled, and left the lives of her loved ones empty and in ruins.
Now, ten years later, her wealthy Roman boyfriend has returned to pack up and sell the house that he owns in town. He hasn’t been back to town, or spoken to any of his local friends, since the murder. When his ten year old cell phone is returned to him, he discovers text messages sent after Alice’s death that change everything he thought he knew about the murder. He can’t ignore Alice and the painful story he’s been running from any longer.
The story switches between first and third person narrators, and follows the points of view of several characters, giving the reader a well-rounded sense of the town and its residents. But if there is one true thing about small towns, it’s that everyone pays attention to everyone else’s business, while trying to hide their own business from everyone else. This makes the story of Alice’s death both transparently obvious, and gives it surprising twists.
Alice’s story is paralleled with the current story of Chiara, the teenage daughter of a pair of Alice’s close friends, who follows a similar path to the events that led to Alice’s death. There are several such dichotomies and mirrors throughout the story. These illustrate the themes of the novel, such as family loyalty vs community and justice, the nature of heroism, the deceptiveness of appearances, and the dual nature of secrets.
If the reader takes the time to fully digest the novel, it has quite a bit to say on a variety of themes, plus a sense of humor and pathos. But the messages aren’t overbearing. The story can be taken at face value and enjoyed as a mystery and a slice of small town Italian life. It’s pleasurable and well-written either way. The pacing and vivid descriptions keep the reader engaged.
The twists do get a little too twisty, and some of the secrets are kept a bit too long, so that toward the end it becomes harder to follow the story and keep track of all of the clues, because we’re missing crucial pieces to tie them together. It might have made more sense to do some of the reveals more slowly, and let the reader fill in the picture more completely, before the last major secrets are brought out.
Keeping so much from the reader until the end also meant that a few of the important characters didn’t get narrative attention until close to the end of the book. This is understandable, given the way the story is constructed, but they’re intriguing characters that I would have liked to have known better.
These are relatively small complaints, though. Overall, The Night of the Moths was mysterious, thought-provoking, entertaining, and satisfying. A great read for a cold winter night by the fire or a hot summer day by the water.
Riccardo Bruni has written several other books, but only The Lion and the Rose has been translated into English. La Stagione del Biancospino (The Hawthorne Season) will be translated next.