butterfly houseSeptember 2007

After twelve years of Joan and Alan Bowden’s generous hospitality at Foxhole Farm, members of the book circle met at Tremore Valley House, the home of our new hosts Anne and Philip Cardew. The book under discussion this month was The Butterfly House by the American writer Marcia Preston.

Two mothers and their daughters play the leading roles in this story of tangled relationships, broken lives, and redemption through the power of enduring love, Bobbie’s mother Ruth is an alcoholic (partly due to her husband having discovered he was gay and absconding with his brother-in- law) and, though she tries her best, is unable to parent her daughter with much success. Bobbie increasingly spends time with her best friend Cynthia and her mother Lenora, whose scientific research into certain species of ‘ butterfly fascinates the girl to such an extent that Cynthia and Ruth begin to feel isolated from the intense friendship which is developing between the two.

Jealousy fuels suspicion, and a mindless act of vengeance has desperate consequences for all four women. Ten years later, Bobbie is visited by Lenora’s husband, who had been presumed dead in Vietnam during Cynthia’s and Bobbie’s formative years, with a request that she accompany him to the prison where Lenora is serving a life sentence for Ruth’s murder. The journey she unwillingly embarks upon triggers Bobbie’s fragile memories of the events leading up to that fatal night and its repercussions, and the eventual courtroom reunion produces – well, I’m not going to tell you any more or you won’t be bothered to get hold of the book, and that would be a pity because we all agreed that The Butterfly House was a very good read.

There are several fascinating characters depicted as well as the four protagonists, commendable examples of symbolism – notably thef metamorphosis of the butterflies alongside the blossoming of the two girls into young women, much good writing (despite the occasional strained verb) and a plot which holds one’s interest from the first page to the last.

Next month’s book is A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.

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