The Sound of Butterflies is New Zealand author Rachael King’s first novel. I have had a couple of failures with NZ authors this year so I really wanted to like this one – and on the whole I did.
The failures by the way have been totally mine rather than either of the authors (I got half way through Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones and Eleanor Cattons’s The Rehearsal, but got sidetracked and didn’t finish them)
The Sound of Butterflies takes place in 1903/4 in Edwardian England and the Brazilian Amazon.
Thomas Edgar has been passionate about butterflies since he was a young boy. Without any qualifications, he is honoured to be invited to join an expedition into the Amazon where he hopes to identify an as yet unconfirmed species of butterfly. To his mind the discovery will secure his reputation and immortalise his young wife Sophie, left behind in England – he will name the butterfly with one black and one yellow wing after her.
When he returns a year later, Thomas is physically exhausted and mentally traumatised. He seems unable or unwilling to speak. Sophie fears her husband has lost his faith and his mind.
The narrative alternates between the two countries over the preceeding year as the reader and Sophie discover the reason for Thomas’ silence.
Rachael King does a great job of contrasting Thomas as he was in the correct and reserved English society with the untamed, passionate creature he becomes as he journeys further into the jungle. His love of butterflies borders on the obsessive, his sense of social justice threatens more than just the men’s expedition.
The Sound of Butterflies reminds me a little of The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason which I read years ago and is set from memory in the same time period and involves a life changing journey to a foreign country. Rachael King’s novel though has more energy and was easier to read.
I enjoyed it but I think it could have been better edited. There were several references to September in England being Spring, a tree in bud and warmer weather heading into Summer. It seems such a basic mistake but every time I read that I noticed it and it disrupted the flow of the story. I also thought it was about 50 pages too long.
I liked it enough though to put Rachel King’s latest novel Magpie Hall on my radar.
2007, 368 pages