Review: The Butterfly Man by Heather Rose

“Today I was dangerous. I wanted to confess. I wanted to tell her stories I had held back all these years. I wanted at last to be free of the seventh of November, 1974. And I wanted to be free of today. As if in the telling, there would be a cure.”

In November 1974 a young English nanny named Sandra Rivett was murdered in London’s West End. Her employer, Lord Lucan, was named as her attacker. It was widely assumed he had mistaken her for his wife. Lord Lucan disappeared the night Sandra Rivett died and has never been seen since.

Henry Kennedy lives on a mountain on the other side of the world. He is not who he says he is. Is he a murderer or a man who can never clear his name? And is he the only one with something to hide?

Set in Tasmania, Africa and London’s Belgravia, The Butterfly Man is an absorbing novel about transformation and deception.

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Review

The problem I find with books like The Butterfly Man when knowing it’s inevitable the character will die, is wondering how they share their story. Ghosts can’t hold pens and how are readers expected to believe it’s a possibility the character will miraculously survive a terminal brain tumour? Of course ghosts could relate a story, in fiction, if it was stated they were one. When they aren’t, however, you’re left flummoxed.

By the time I finish a story such as this, the question of how it’s related has became so much louder than it began. When I first contemplate the tale, I’m left wondering about it all. The rest of the story, whatever impressions it could leave, is faint compared to that unanswered conundrum.

This isn’t a spoiler, but something that crops up right at the beginning, and steers the rest of the novel. The protagonist, Henry, will die. It is unavoidable. If you can think past the frustrating implausibility that is a ghost writing, then it makes for some reflective reading. We get to follow a man who questions his past, tries to come to terms with his present, and begins to lose his grip on reality. This offers up several meditative and thoughtful passages about existence, death, reality, and connection.

The writing itself isn’t overly flowery, but does digress at times from plainly recounting events to becoming more florid in it’s descriptions. These descriptions also reflect the mood and, I feel, where Henry was on his journey. Where I felt the writing disadvantaged the story was with keeping the reader up to date. It’s not that what’s going on isn’t explained eventually, but it can happen after several paragraphs to pages. When it’s a current scene, I prefer being given ample explanation to be kept in the moment, rather than leaving too much filling in up to me. I feel it diverts you from reading, as you have to guess so much of what the character is on about.

Regardless of all my points made, The Butterfly Man was a poignant read. I found it somewhat depressing, which is understandable with the subject, but I would like to believe I’ve taken more from it than sadness and frustration. It’s left me in a thoughtful mood and I find it’s quite easy to picture both locations and characters when considering the story. Both of which always leave a lasting impression.

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