Reviewed by Emma Crowley
I blamed my son for the death of my daughter…
When twenty-five-year-old Erin loses the man she loves, she flees London for Cornwall and takes a job at Hookes End, a huge house clinging precariously to the Cornish cliffs. The owner, frail reclusive novelist and butterfly enthusiast Maggie, has kept the curtains of her dusty house drawn for many years. But as she and Erin spend evenings together by the fireside, sharing stories of the past, Erin feels her shattered heart begin to heal. In return, Erin agrees to help Maggie find her long lost family before it is too late.
Years ago, Maggie’s son Lucas ran away to the other side of the world after the death of her daughter ripped the family apart. Maggie is desperate to see Lucas again – there is something she needs him to know.
Erin wants to help Maggie find peace so she vows to track down her lost son. But when at last she finds Lucas, in a far- away place of searing heat and pearly sands, it becomes clear that he is hiding something too.
As Erin grows closer to Lucas and unravels the webs of deceit entangling mother and son, she learns about the terrible tragedy that changed their lives forever: the night when a little girl in a fairy nightdress went missing. But with Maggie’s time fast running out, is it too late for them to find the forgiveness they need to move on?
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Butterfly Garden to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
The Butterfly Garden is the debut novel from Sophie Anderson and it’s a dark, moody, atmospheric read. It’s very much a slow burner with a very slow and steady pace throughout which never quite builds to a crescendo of revelation rather like the mental state of the characters it maintains a measured and heavy feeling as the story develops. It had all the makings of a classic thrilling read, full of family secrets but yet I never became fully gripped and swept away by it. It’s a good read but I feel it only touches the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the author is potentially capable of. This book has the most gorgeous of covers and the title suggest the butterfly garden may very well play a pivotal role in the story, it does to a certain extent but not in the way I had imagined it. It’s more of an analogy that ties in with the story of Maggie and her son.
The main story is set in the coastal village of Portheal and the landscape, climate and the sea match the mood of the characters. Interspersed throughout are diary entries written by Maggie detailing what happened to her following a traumatic and unforgettable loss. These pieces of writing will go on to form the basis of Maggie’s last book and in attempting to collate everything together she is searching for peace, forgiveness and acceptance. So many wrongs need to be put right as time is running out. Here is where Erin steps in, can she help Maggie resolve what has haunted her for so many years? But she too has messed up her life and returned to Portheal with her tail between her legs having been deemed a homewrecker. Both Erin and Maggie are lonely, confused and hurting. They share similar characteristics although the circumstances for these differ between each woman. When Erin responds to a sign saying eyes wanted little does she realise the emotional journey she is about to go on but secrets in families will eventually come to the surface as the ghosts, lies and hardships come to the surface.
Maggie lives in Hookes End in a house which clings to the edge of a cliff and is more or less falling down around her. It’s like she has given up and you couldn’t blame her giving her eyesight is failing thanks to a diagnosis she would never have wished for. Maggie when Erin meets her is very hard to read. She reveals nothing about herself and has been very much an enigma in the village for as long as anyone can remember. The circumstances that brought her to Hookes End have never been revealed. But there is something about Maggie that Erin is drawn to. Yes she may have initially taken the job as a means of forgetting what had happened to her and to hide away and earn some money but a revelation regarding her own family has further turned her world upside down. Hookes End provides an escape and a safety net for her and getting to know Maggie as she edits her diary entries and types what Maggie dictates makes her feel as if her worries can be cast aside, for a time at least.
Maggie is very much a haunted character and to be honest I much preferred her to Erin. She was very well written and having the diary entries gave us glimpses into her past. She may now be a recluse despite having had success with her novels but many years ago an event tore her world apart that led to devastation, separation, hurt, anger and a descent into a mental state very much hard to come out of. The diary entries were fascinating, insightful and at times hard to read but they gave us a window into Maggie’s soul. When the reason for Maggie’s way of being and feeling is revealed all the snippets from the past that I had read made much more sense and I had a much deeper appreciation and understanding of what she had been through. I felt her reasons for feeling this way were justified but how her body and mind reacted afterwards was very hard to read about. She has a life full of regrets and as her illness worsens she wishes Erin to help her make amends. There were slow and tantalising hints dropped as to the root cause of Maggie’s isolation, pain, suffering and the life of regrets she has. When the reveal came after the story dragged in the middle, the exact details of it were surprising to me but it helped me make sense of several other strands of the story.
Erin and Maggie do form an unlikely pair but I loved the close friendship and bond that developed between them. Erin was never going to let Maggie suffer alone and she did her utmost best for her at all times. But yet I felt the house became a refuge too for Erin away from all her own insecurities and troubles and she had to push these to the side to tend to Maggie and complete one last favour before it was too late. I kept waiting for the butterfly garden of the title to feature. Yes, there were mentions of butterflies and Maggie’s connection to them but what was the meaning behind it? When Erin sets about completing one final task for Maggie before it's too late the atmosphere of the book lifted ever so slightly despite the grave nature of the overall situation. The descriptions of Costa Rica were just so stunning and visual and in total contrast to those of Cornwall. This is where I felt Erin’s own journey really took place too and shaped and moulded her in order to deal with and confront her own family issues. This part of the book I enjoyed as it was slowly giving us answers and another perspective to Maggie’s story was shared. I just wondered could Erin unravel the secrets of the past before it was too late or had too much damage been done for absolution and compassion to be found and accepted?
Overall The Butterfly Garden was a good read but I found it to be a but if a mixed bag in places and then in others there were wonderfully written moments but not enough to have me fully engrossed. That said, I would definitely read something in the future that this author writes as with time I feel she could become someone who will grow a big fanbase.