Sunday, 24 July 2016

For a Monumental, Epic Read Try The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

In my Summer Reading List, I described this book as an epic read, and it certainly is!
The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans tells the dual stories of Nina Parr, who inherits Keepsake, an old crumbling house in Cornwall, and of her grandmother, Thea, and the curse that has that affected all the Parr women since the first Nina Parr bore Charles II's child.
In 2011, on the second anniversary of her divorce from Sebastian, an old lady at the London Library scares Nina by seeming to recognise her. She tells her she knows her father is not dead, and she tells her about Keepsake, a house which seems vaguely familiar. This is just the beginning of a roller-coaster ride where Nina finds out the truth about her family and the legacy of Keepsake.
Seventy-three years before to the day, Thea finally leaves Keepsake for London, escaping with the help of her friend, Matty, to get away from her cruel father after her mother's death. Thea's life is told in the from of a story which she writes down, called The Butterfly Summer, telling of her life that last summer before the war.
Harriet Evans draws the characters, and describes London and Keepsake so well that I was entirely drawn into the modern story of Nina and her American mother, Delilah; George, her father, a lepidopterist (butterfly expert!); Mrs Poll, who lives upstairs and helps look after Nina as a child, and Sebastian, Nina's ex-husband, and his insufferable mother, Zinnia, and also the Thirties story of Thea, and the people she meets in London: Michael and Misha, Russian émigrés who give her a job at the Athena Press, and Al who lives upstairs in the same building.
The other element is the theme of butterflies. Apart from the butterfly garden and butterfly house at Keepsake, hidden down by the Helford River, there are the ideas of freedom, capture, and metamorphosis.

It is a monumental story, in turns: intriguing, mysterious, romantic, shocking, magical, dramatic, compulsive, frightening, violent, tragic and uplifting. In short, I couldn't wait for a minute to sit down and read some more, and I was very sad when I came to the last page and had to close the book for the very last time. I think that I might well read it again!


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