Title: The Butterfly Cabinet
Author: Bernie Mcgill
Review: It took me a bit of work to really get into this book. The story seemed slow to start and it really never captured me completely. I didn’t really care what happened to most of the characters, and even the ones you heard the most about who you should have really been rooting for, I found them flat. The story could have been brought to life much more then it was, I never felt fully engaged.
As the story progressed I did like the line that developed between discipline and abuse. This is a fine line that many parents tread and some never get near it, while others cross to the other side without realizing it. How to we discipline our children in a manner that will help them grow into responsible adults who can care for themselves and others? If you know let me know, thanks.
I hoped for more out of this story, but it is one to think about. Heartache and loss, guilt and lost moments with those we love and care about. Regrets that last a lifetime are not something I want to have like the characters in these pages. The truth was not shocking at all.
Publisher: Published July 26th 2011 by Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Quick Review: 3 stars (out of 5)
Why I Read It: A free press blog tour was looking for reviewers.
Where I Obtained the Book: Sent by the publisher.
Synopsis: Vivid, mysterious and unforgettable, The Butterfly Cabinet is Bernie McGill’s engrossing portrayal of the dark history that intertwines two lives. Inspired by a true story of the death of the daughter of an aristocratic Irish family at the end of the nineteenth century, McGill powerfully tells this tale of two women whose lives will become upended by a newly told secret.
The events begin when Maddie McGlade, a former nanny now in her nineties, receives a letter from the last of her charges and realizes that the time has come to unburden herself of a secret she has kept for over seventy years: what really happened on the last day in the life of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old only daughter of the big house where Maddie was employed as a young woman. It is to Charlotte’s would-be niece, Anna—pregnant with her first—that Maddie will tell her story as she nears the end of her life in a lonely nursing home in Northern Ireland.
The book unfolds in chapters that alternate between Maddie’s story and the prison diaries of Charlotte’s mother, Harriet, who had been held responsible for her daughter’s death. As Maddie confesses the truth to Anna, she unravels the Ormonds’ complex family history, and also details her own life, marked by poverty, fear, sacrifice and lies. In stark contrast to Maddie is the misunderstood, haughty and yet surprisingly lyrical voice of Harriet’s prison diaries, which Maddie has kept hidden for decades. Motherhood came no more easily to Harriet than did her role as mistress of a far-flung Irish estate. Proud and uncompromising, she is passionate about riding horses and collecting butterflies to store in her prized cabinet. When her only daughter, Charlotte, dies, allegedly as the result of Harriet’s punitive actions, the community is quick to condemn her and send her to prison for the killing. Unwilling to stoop to defend herself and too absorbed in her own world of strict rules and repressed desires, she accepts the cruel destiny that is beyond her control even as, paradoxically, it sets her free.
The result of this unusual duet is a haunting novel full of frightening silences and sorrowful absences that build toward the unexpected, chilling truth.
Author Biography: Bernie McGill lives in Portstewart in Northern Ireland. Her first novel, The Butterfly Cabinet was published in the UK and Ireland in August 2010 by Headline Review and will be published in the US by Free Press in July 2011. It is available in an Italian translation - La donna che collezionava farfalle - published by Bollati Boringhieri and in Dutch - Charlotte's vleugels - published by De Fontein. The paperback will be released by Hachette Australia in May 2011 and in the UK and Ireland by Headline Review on 9th June 2011. The Butterfly Cabinet is on Facebook.
Bernie McGill also writes short stories and she writes for the theatre. In 2010 she was a supplementary prizewinner in the Bridport Short Story Prize and Second Prizewinner in the Seán Ó Faoláin and the Michael McLaverty Short Story Prizes. In 2008, she was first prizewinner in the Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest (US). She co-wrote The Haunting of Helena Blunden, a stage play, for Big Telly Theatre Company in 2010 and The Weather Watchers, a play for young audiences for Cahoots NI in 2006. She is a recent recipient of an Arts Council ACES Award, in association with the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University, Belfast. Her short story 'No Angel' will appear in the forthcoming Salt publication Best British Short Stories edited by Nicholas Royle. Her prize-winning short stories are available to read online at Zoetrope and at Southword.