The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley - book review: Riley brings us a cast of exquisitely drawn characters, prepare to be intrigued
For nearly seventy years, beautiful Admiral House in Suffolk has been at the heart of Posy Montague’s life.
But as the magnificent gardens she has created with such love and attention start to become a burden, and the house which holds so many memories starts to crumble, Posy knows that the time has come to sell the home she adores.
Lucinda Riley is the internationally renowned author of a raft of bestselling novels, including the hugely ambitious and unforgettable Seven Sisters time-slip series which charts the heritage of seven adopted sisters and has been optioned as a multi-season TV series by a Hollywood production company.
But far from resting on her laurels, Riley has been using her considerable talents to pen an utterly enchanting English-flavoured, multi-generational saga which stars an ageing but dazzling leading lady, and is set against the stunning backdrop of the Suffolk coastal town of Southwold.
Brimming with familiar – and often hard-hitting domestic issues – and with a dark and tantalising mystery at its core, The Butterfly Room is yet a beautiful novel, transforming a contemporary drama into an elegantly written and moving paean to family life, love and the ties that bind us together.
It’s 2006 and widow Posy Montague is fast approaching her seventieth birthday. She is still living in her charming family home, Admiral House, set in the glorious Suffolk countryside where she spent her own idyllic childhood catching butterflies with her beloved father, and raised her two sons. But Posy knows she must make the agonising decision to sell it.
It was here, in her early childhood, that she shared her father’s love for plants and nature, and became determined to follow in his footsteps as a botanist. ‘The world is a magical place, and we must all count ourselves lucky to live in it,’ he told Posy.
His words have remained with her ever since even though he died during the war while on active service as a Spitfire pilot and she was sent by her fragile and grieving mother to live with her grandmother in the Cornish countryside near Bodmin.
Despite the memories held inside the house, and the exquisite garden which she has spent twenty-five years creating, Posy knows she is living there ‘on borrowed time’ and must start to seriously consider putting it on the market.
But then a face appears from the past and sends ‘a bolt of lightning’ through her… retired barrister Freddie Lomax was her first and greatest love, the man who mysteriously abandoned her and left her heartbroken fifty years ago.
Already struggling to cope with her eldest son Sam’s inept business dealings which have left his wife and children virtually penniless, and with the sudden reappearance of her younger son Nick who fled to Australia after a broken love affair, Posy is reluctant to trust in Freddie’s renewed affection.
And what Posy doesn’t yet know is that Freddie – and Admiral House – have a devastating secret to reveal.
Riley is such an intuitively clever and perceptive author and in this compelling tale of family secrets, lost loves and new beginnings, she tackles a wide cross-section of social and domestic issues with her trademark warmth, empathy and wisdom.
From its leisurely, dream-like opening sequences through Posy’s happy childhood with her beloved father to the upheavals and dark secrets that have lain hidden for decades, this is a journey full of real people and real dramas.
Riley reveals how complicated family relationships can be but also how fulfilling. Love and loyalty are often tested to their limits but truth and integrity are the bedrock of true happiness. Secrets and lies – however well-intentioned – have a corrosive effect and it is this concept which is explored with breathtaking insight and emotive intelligence.
But what impresses most is The Butterfly Room’s powerful emotional depth which guarantees that tears will be shed as Riley casts her eye over the vagaries of family life, the complexity of relationships, and how we cope with the triumphs and tragedies that inevitably mark out the journey from cradle to grave.
At the heart of the family is Posy, a strong, caring and inspirational woman whose humanity and joie de vivre make her an indomitable force. At seventy years old, she might be forgiven for retreating into her memories and the past, but she retains the optimism and enthusiasm to continue looking to the future.
From a younger generation facing personal crises to the dilemmas of the ageing but vibrant Posy, Riley brings us a cast of exquisitely drawn characters and as you slip effortlessly into their lives and share their hopes, dreams and fears, prepare to be intrigued, moved to tears… and ultimately uplifted.
(Macmillan, hardback, £16.99)