Hansel Meets His Gretel - and She's an It-Girl ; Moths by Karl Manders CHATTO [Pound]12.99

By House, Christian | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), May 27, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Hansel Meets His Gretel - and She's an It-Girl ; Moths by Karl Manders CHATTO [Pound]12.99


House, Christian, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


What is it about fathers and sons? For centuries writers have tackled their troublesome dynamic and the subject has consistently made pessimistic reading. It's refreshing, then, to find a pair in Karl Manders' debut, Moths, who spend most of the story apart, forged by their separate desires and intrigues, and who still remain emotionally bound together. Absence makes their hearts grow fonder in a way that you won't find in the pages of Mario Puzo or Turgenev. This is just one surprising aspect of this beguiling fable-like novel.

At the beginning of the book Cornelius van Baerle doesn't "much care for talk about moral obligation". However, in the precarious arena of Eastern Europe in the 1930s, responsibility searches him out. The successful industrialist, pianist and all-round party guy sires a child on a business trip and returns to Zutphen in the Dutch province of Gelderland with a boy in tow. The blond, quiet toddler is quickly unloaded on to Cornelius's barren sister. She sighs with gratitude and declares: "He's a doll boy, so tiny and light." Thus Dolboy Van Baerle is introduced into Zutphen society.

As he grows up and war envelops Holland, Dolboy develops a need for speed. He "runs as a bird flies", observes his aunt. His daily dogtrot takes him through the forests, along dykes and eventually to a summerhouse in the estate of a great castle. He finds the interior alive with swirling clouds of green moths the size of sparrows. He also discovers Mir-jam, a feisty lepidopterist, heir to the castle and captor of Dolboy's heart. And so a very peculiar fairy-tale friendship takes shape: a darting, spectral Hansel with an It-Girl Gre-tel out in the woods.

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