Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: The Butterfly Cabinet

Told in two voices, this novel explores life in a wealthy and secretive Northern Irish family. The two voices are those of Harriet Ormond, mistress of Ormond Castle, and Maddie, one of her young servants. Harriet's portion of the book is a diary, written while its author was incarcerated for the murder of her daughter, Charlotte. Maddie's portion is told decades later, in old age, as she narrates her story to Harriet's great-niece Anna, who visits Maddie in the nursing home. Through the interwoven stories we learn what role each woman played in Charlotte's death. The picture that emerges of Harriet is one of a cold and misguided woman, more at home in nature, with the butterflies she collects, than she is at home with her family.

This is certainly an atmospheric noel, and the cold and draughty castle serves as a fine backdrop for this rather Gothic tale. McGill makes the reader feel the dankness of the prison and the shadowy alcoves of the castle. I did not much care for the format of Maddie's narrative. She tells her story to someone who is not really a character, and I found that Harriet's portion flowed much more smoothly. The ending offered some exciting twists and turns, but I still would like to be rid of the unseen Anna.

Bernie McGill, The Butterfly Cabinet (Free Press, 2011) ISBN: 1451611595

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