callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

A summer read: The Butterfly Summer, Harriet Evans

Here’s what the publisher says:
‘What magic is this?
You follow the hidden creek towards a long-forgotten house.
They call it Keepsake, a place full of wonder ... and danger. Locked inside the crumbling elegance of its walls lies the story of the Butterfly Summer, a story you've been waiting all your life to hear.
This house is Nina Parr's birthright. It holds the truth about her family - and a chance to put everything right at last.’

I enjoyed the Winterfold books which comprised A Place for Us, so I requested The Butterfly Summer from NetGalley expecting a treat. This is really two books. In the present day there’s Nina, divorced and back living with her mother and stepfather. One day she’s with her ex-husband (and still good friend) in the British Library when a completely strange woman claims to know her as ‘Teddy’ and slips an old photograph into her bag. So begins a search into the past which is disturbing for Nina and upsets her relationship with her mother. She’s always been told that her father is dead. Now the mysterious stranger tells her that he isn’t and that she should know about ‘Keepsake’. Little does Nina know that she is the heiress of Keepsake, that fantastical, hidden house in Cornwall, with its wonderful garden full of butterflies.

The other half of the story is ‘The Butterfly Summer’, a book written by ‘Teddy’ for her son and a former lover, explaining and justifying her actions (how convenient!) This story within a story describes the events of one wartime summer. Oddly, it read more like something happening in the nineteenth century, which was confusing. I confess I found this dragged at times and I was itching to get back to modern Nina.

This is a tale of love, loss and betrayal, with a good dose of horror. The secrets of Keepsake are not pleasant ones. By coincidence, I’d just read Rachel Hore’s A Week in Paris, also about a young woman finding that her mother has lied to her about her father and discovering the truth. It’s a better book, I think.

I didn’t enjoy The Butterfly Summer as much as I did the Winterfold books. For one thing, the author should learn the value of a semi-colon in writing. It’s redeemed by the strangeness of the Keepsake story, the atmosphere of the house and that astounding garden. It can’t be a coincidence that The Secret Garden was Nina’s favourite childhood book (mine, too!) and that she owns twelve copies. I thought Keepsake rather a Dornford Yates-ish name for a house. A book for lovers of backwards and forwards mysteries with an old house at the heart of the story. Nina is a very sympathetic character and you really hope everything will turn out well for her.

You can get a taster by downloading extracts free to the Kindle.
Tags: harriet evans, netgalley

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