Margaret Drabble’s The Peppered Moth is a fascinating exploration of family, heredity, genetics, and the history that links family members.
In the beginning, we meet a group of people interested in learning about their heritage. A scientist heads up the meeting, and is prepared to take DNA samples of the various participants.
We then move back and forth, between the past and present, exploring the primary characters from their childhoods to adulthood…and beyond.
Bessie Bawtry escaped her ordinary background—for a time, anyway—when she earned a Cambridge scholarship. She struggles to free herself from the family she left behind. However, she does end up marrying her hometown boyfriend Joe Barron. The reader has to wonder about this choice…is she really trying to escape her beginnings? And will she escape her family history or is she destined to repeat it?
After their marriage, her husband goes to war, leaving her to care for their two children all alone. When he returns, their differences become very apparent. Their troubled marriage must make each of them wonder about their choices.
Years later, though, their granddaughter Faro Gaulden, is amongst those seeking answers to their heritage. It would seem that things have come full circle, as she is trying to understand the very issues that plagued her grandmother. And she, too, struggles with choices that seemingly fly in the face of what she needs.
As I read this tale, I sometimes found myself bogged down…even confused, at times; sometimes the details bored me, as I wondered what was the point of it all.
But then toward the end, I regained my interest and the story moved more smoothly. Even the book’s title made sense at one point, as one of the characters has an “internal monologue” about a moth species that has “darkened” with mutations; the “peppered moth”–almost an analogy for the genetic programming of the human characters.
Despite the fact that the book seemed to “drag” for me, at times, it was definitely a worthwhile read, which is why I’m granting it 4 stars. Probably 4.5.