An unforgettable story of two women linked by their roles in a tragedy at the end of the Victorian era, THE BUTTERFLY CABINET by Bernie McGill will appeal to fans of THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX or THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER, and was singled out by Julian Fellowes as his Book of the Year in the Guardian.
On a remote estate in the north of Ireland, a little girl dies, and the community is quick to condemn her mother, Harriet Ormond. Now, after seventy years, Maddie McGlade, a former nanny at the house, knows the time has come to reveal her own role in the events of that day.
From Maddie's reminiscences and Harriet's long-concealed diaries emerges an unforgettable story of motherhood and betrayal, and of two women, mistress and servant, inextricably connected by an extraordinary secret.
Based loosely on a late-19th-century Irish murder case, McGill turns her gothic debut about the death of a young girl tied up alone in a room as punishment into an exquisite series of painful revelations. In the late 1960s, the pregnant Anna visits her old nurse, Maddie, who four decades before was a housemaid at the Castle at Oranmore. As Maddie reminisces, the viewpoint shifts between Maddie and her harsh employer, butterfly-collector Harriet Ormond, imprisoned in 1892 for the murder (accidental death, she claimed) of her four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, and later pregnant again with a daughter who would become Anna's mother. With the butterflies, pinned and displayed, serving as metaphor for the constricted lives of both Harriet's tightly disciplined children and Harriet herself, trapped in motherhood and frustrated by the unruly young Charlotte, McGill easily recreates the lives of the Castle's owners and servants and the intricate connections between them. As both Harriet and Maddie's stories emerge, the tale becomes a powder keg of domestic suspense that threatens to explode as long-kept secrets surrounding Charlotte's death are teased out.
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The Butterfly Cabinet
I was not sure i was going to enjoy this book or not. I am a man for a start and in my ignorance thought this to be for a female only audience. I know that might sound sexist but i am only being honest.
However I could not have been more wrong. This is masterpiece of prose. Highly accomplished and classical. Each character presents themselves with such a full bodied dynamism that I got caught up in each of their lives.
The narrative is gripping, made even more so by the digressions and misdirections of each inhabitant of the house.
I am not used to reading such passionate prose and there are phrases that will stay with me for some time. To read about birth, deceit and death, to hate the murderess then to finally understand her. To see interconnections I could never have imagined. The work of a great author.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.