Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill : New Book Review & Blog Tour

Gothic ghost story.  Murder mystery.  Meditation on motherhood.  Historical fiction.  Epistolary novel.  Upstairs/Downstairs-esque class-based soap opera. The Butterfly Cabinet treads the borders of these genres, or perhaps encompasses them all.

I admire the sure and often striking prose here- the language through which McGill inhabits and reveals her characters- and the courage of this author's fiercely questioning gaze.  This is a writer unafraid to broach the uncomfortable subject, to push through taboos to unlock universally human truths.  But be advised: This is not easy psychological territory for writer or reader. 

If you open The Butterfly Cabinet, be prepared to confront death, cruelty in many forms, and the lineages of dysfunction that sometimes seem inescapable.  And be prepared to recall and to ponder the moments in which just a few moments' - or minutes', or hours' - inattention to your responsibilities might have destroyed your future and your own inner balance for the rest of your life, and perhaps for generations beyond.

Can you ever fully escape your childhood?  Is death actually the end?  Can guilt deform an entire lifetime of experiences, hobble you forever, even if your transgression seems ever so slight?  And passion: Do we ever indulge it without penalty, really?  If your parents, if your society shape your actions or distort your true nature, can you be held entirely responsible for the repercussions of your pathologies?

Not your typical set of questions for a summer read to pursue, but they're just a few pieces of the puzzle offered in this novel based on true events in Northern Ireland circa 1880-1968.  A mother is accused of murdering her four-year-old daughter.  But because this book is crafted so subtly - one set of letters in the "present" of the late 1960's offering counterpoint of fact and interpretation to a set of diary entries from the late 1880's - and because its pacing and tension derive from the mysteries so carefully and incrementally revealed from the first page all the way through the last, offering plot beyond these basics will diminish your experience, friends, so I won't do it.

I'll need a few more days - at least - to ponder the questions this novel forces readers to consider.  To my mind, to produce a work that makes seasoned readers question their own assumptions about what is right vs. what is fair vs. what is natural is triumph enough for a first-time novelist.  I will certainly read Ms. McGill's future works, and, when you are ready for a serious and haunting novel written in rather stunning prose, I suggest you start, as I did, with The Butterfly Cabinet.


p.s. I offered a sample of her prose on Friday.  Check it out here.

I should thank the folks at FreePress, who provided me with a copy to read for review today.  For alternate opinions of The Butterfly Cabinet, head over to the FreePress group on Book Blogs Ning.


Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

This is a new to me title. It sounds very intriguing. I love when a book really sticks in my mind after finishing it. I will be sure to look for this book. Great review!

Brenda Youngerman said...

I really like the way you handled this review --- bravo!

Anonymous said...

I loved this one, too.

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