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The Butterfly Cabinet Paperback – 9 Jun 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (9 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755370708
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755370702
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 379,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Beautifully done and thoroughly absorbing' ( Daily Mail )

'An absorbing story of marriage, motherhood and murder' ( Woman and Home )

'An intense exploration of maternal love and guilt' ( Financial Times )

'Exceptionally accomplished' ( Ulster Tatler )

'Utterly compelling... a haunted tale, pitch perfect in tone' (Marie Claire)

'Assured and very readable, holding plenty of promise for the future' ( Irish Independent )

'McGill has the ability to enter the brain and heart of her characters and so to make us sympathise with people who commit acts we abhor' (Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey)

Book Description

A secret shared.  Two lives entwined.  Finally the past must come to light.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I started reading this book yesterday and finished it today. The writing is lyrical and beautiful, and the characters compelling. It starts quite gently but I was surprised at the pace and momentum that emerged as I read. By sixty pages in I was turning the pages faster and faster, wanting to find out how the story ends.

The book centres around Maddie and Harriet. Maddie was a young servant in 'the big house' and Harriet was her cold and rigid mistress. Maddie speaks to us directly as an old woman in 1968, while Harriet writes in her prison diary in 1892. We know from the beginning that Harriet's only daughter Charlotte has died in the house, and as the book unfolds we learn the circumstances of her death. The characters are vivid and totally believable. In the hands of a different author these characters could easily become two-dimensional caricatures, but both women, particularly Harriet, are complex and sympathetic. I really felt for both of them and how their lives were shaped and restricted by their own backgrounds and upbringings.

The book also touches upon the politics in Northern Ireland, particularly in 1892, but this is woven in so gracefully it enhances the story without dominating it. I love the sea, and it's a recurring theme in the book, especially at the end.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book. I read it rather greedily to see how the story ends (and the last page will send a tingle down your spine). I suspect it's a book I'll come back to, this time simply to appreciate the beauty of the writing.
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Format: Paperback
Ms McGill's novel is based on a sad event. In 1892, an aristocratic woman punished her four year old daughter. The child strangled to death.

In this fictional version of the tragedy, the story moves between the prison diary of Lady Harriet Ormond as she serves time for her daughter Charlotte's accidental death, and the memories of Maddie McGlade over seventy years later. The backdrop to each woman's narrative is provided by important moments in Irish history: the struggle for home rule for Harriet, the civil unrest of 1968-69 for Maddie. The alternating viewpoints, of events that are being recounted in 1892 by Lady Harriet Ormond and her contemporaneous reactions, and Maddie's recollections some seventy years later make for interesting reading. Maddie is now in her nineties, and realises the time has come to share a secret (or two) that she has carried with her all this time. It is Anna she tells: the last of the children she cared for, and a granddaughter of Lady Harriet.

`That's what we do: tell made-up stories to fend off the night, to put off telling the truth.'

The voices of Maddie and Lady Harriet are very different, as are their circumstances and their views. Harriet and her husband have nine children in 12 years of marriage, Maddie starts work at Oranmore aged 14. Harriet yearns for the freedom to collect butterflies, while Maddie is immersed in the hard work and drudgery of housework. . Maddie has witnessed abuse of a number of the children and has, with the knowledge of Peig the housekeeper, reported the maltreatment to the Cruelty Society. To no avail.

But what is the story of the last day in the life of Charlotte Ormond? Charlotte is Lady Harriet's only daughter and, at 4 years of age, one of her younger children.
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Format: Hardcover
The Butterfly Cabinet is as beautiful as the creatures Harriet Ormond pinned under glass, in her quest to imprison and control anything free and lovely. This character, the mistress of a 'big house' in late 19th century Ireland is someone I really got to know throughout the book, and I didn't expect or want to, initially!

She is jailed for her part in the tragic death of her little daughter Charlotte and it is through her prison diaries that the author succeeds in drawing her so well. The book alternates between Harriet's story and Maddie's - one of the servant girls, now a resident of the big house which has become a nursing home. Maddie tells her story to the pregnant Anna, a granddaughter of Harriet.

Both have tales to tell, leading up to the day Charlotte died, both had a role to play, both need to be absolved.

Harriet is rigid and clinical - her distaste for Charlotte 'she never lost the smell of being birthed...the smell of the inside of me'. Continuing when Charlotte couldn't manage potty training. This is contrasted with another side of Harriet - when she remembers riding her horse one January morning - 'the colour bled back into things...we are only a heartbeat from chaos'. Her feeling like an alien species, forced to masquerade all the time.

Her childhood is slowly revealed; a sickly mother wincing at her touch, (we find out later the reason for this) compared to how free and easy her sister Julia was with herself and others. Charlotte reminded her of Julia too - this is great.
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