I know there are many readers like me out there who will gobble up any story about a stately Victorian home with plenty of upstairs/downstairs class tension. I've tasted books like The Butterfly Cabinet
before, and I still find them as alluring as toast and tea - good enough to be a regular part of the diet. And while the UK edition of the novel has a butterfly on the cover, it's no accident that the US edition appeals to readers with an aged stone house, spooky windows, and a jagged roofline; ancestral piles on this side of the pond just don't have the same patina. There are intriguing characters on both sides of the divide in Bernie McGill's Oranmore house, and the story provides readers the Victoriana they crave: there is social conservatism and florid wallpaper; there are shocking, outmoded ideas about child rearing. There are corsets.
McGill bases the story on...
Beyond the Book
The Butterfly Cabinet
opens with an aged nanny showing her grown-up charge an heirloom curiosity.
"It's your grandmother's butterfly cabinet: I've had it these years. The keeper of secrets, the mistress's treasure. Ebony, I think it is, very solid: four big balled feet on it... Twelve tiny drawers, every one with its own small wooden knob. None of us was allowed to go near it; it was the one thing in the house that the mistress saw to herself. I'll never solve the problem of her: what's the point of keeping a dead thing?"
The Victorians were rabid in their zeal for collecting things from the natural world, living or dead. (Indeed, the natural history museums of the world owe many of their specimens to...