The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

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The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A story of secrets and intrigue set in Ireland. Someone pays dearly for a gross mistake towards a loved one, a child, but has the right person paid the price?
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755370689

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This novel has been based on fact. McGill moves back and forth with various characters' stories. A child has died in the family home and the mother, Harriet has been tried in a court of law and found guilty. The fact that she is a practical, no-nonsense woman who does not wear her heart on her sleeve does not go down well with the majority of the jury. She has also committed another crime, almost equally as grave, she has sullied the family name of her husband. He is a prominent and respected member of the local community. Nothing will be the same again for either of them.

This is a large, Irish family and there are plenty of brothers but that does not detract from the tragedy. The dead child Charlotte, was the only daughter. And as the story of events leading up to Charlotte's death is told, bit by bit, by the elderly nanny, the reader becomes aware of the complexity of it all. Of questions not asked, of gaps in the whole sorry saga. These gaps are about to be filled, several generations later.

And McGill sets up a nice line in suspense as she drip-feeds the reader with the relevant information. And although the 'crime' was committed in the 1890s, it is apparent that Harriet has a strong personality. In effect, she wears the metaphorical trousers in the household. Her husband is happy to hunt and carry out 'gentlemanly' pursuits and leaves the care of the children to his capable wife. And although there are plenty of servants, they are all expressly ordered by Harriet not to interfere with any of the children in any shape or form. They are even forbidden to hold a conversation with them. And these rigid rules become part of the tragedy. And also a big part of the tragedy is a designated room where the children are sent when they are naughty.

Running alongside nanny's story is Harriet's story. She tells it from her prison cell. And at some stage McGill takes us back to Harriet's own childhood (she's Scottish) and her relationship with her parents but particularly with her mother. Affection was in short supply. The young Harriet was forced to wear a corset. To retain a trim figure she says she ... was hungry for the first nineteen years of my life. And there are plenty more examples of family dynamics.

The Butterfly Cabinet which gives the book its title is mentioned throughout. Everyone in the household is instructed by Harriet not to touch it. It is a treasured possession. We find out that Harriet adores butterflies. But she has to kill them first ... As she says in her own words The end result is magnificent: I wish the catching of them could be more dignified.

We also find out that the elderly nanny has one or two secrets up her sleeve. She wants to unburden herself before she dies. She does so and all the pieces of the story fall into place. An intriguing read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this boook appeals then you might like to try The Dark Place by Sam Millar.

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Buy The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill at


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