The Butterfly Lampshade: Book summary and reviews of The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender

The Butterfly Lampshade

by Aimee Bender

The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender X
The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2020
    304 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

The first novel in ten years from the author of the beloved New York Times bestseller The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake, a luminous, poignant tale of a mother, a daughter, mental illness, and the fluctuating barrier between the mind and the world.

On the night her single mother is taken to a mental hospital after a psychotic episode, eight year-old Francie is staying with her babysitter, waiting to take the train to Los Angeles to go live with her aunt and uncle. There is a lovely lamp next to the couch on which she's sleeping, the shade adorned with butterflies. When she wakes, Francie spies a dead butterfly, exactly matching the ones on the lamp, floating in a glass of water. She drinks it before the babysitter can see.

Twenty years later, Francie is compelled to make sense of that moment, and two other incidents -- her discovery of a desiccated beetle from a school paper, and a bouquet of dried roses from some curtains. Her recall is exact -- she is sure these things happened. But despite her certainty, she wrestles with the hold these memories maintain over her, and what they say about her own place in the world.

As Francie conjures her past and reduces her engagement with the world to a bare minimum, she begins to question her relationship to reality. The scenes set in Francie's past glow with the intensity of childhood perception, how physical objects can take on an otherworldly power. The question for Francie is, What do these events signify? And does this power survive childhood?

Told in the lush, lilting prose that led the San Francisco Chronicle to say Aimee Bender is "a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language," The Butterfly Lampshade is a heartfelt and heartbreaking examination of the sometimes overwhelming power of the material world, and a broken love between mother and child.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[An] astounding meditation on time, space, mental illness, and family...Rich in language and the magic of human consciousness, Bender's masterpiece is one to savor." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"By the end, the book reveals itself as a meditation on memory, identity, and the sometimes-uncanny relationship between living beings and the inanimate world. A novel with rewards for patient and sympathetic readers." - Kirkus Reviews

This information about The Butterfly Lampshade shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a brilliant read
The Butterfly Lampshade is the third novel by NYT best-selling American author, Aimee Bender. Francie is just eight years old when her mother Elaine has a psychotic episode that lands her in hospital. Even at this tender age, Francie is ever-vigilant for the tiny changes that indicate a deterioration in her mother’s condition and suggest the use of the lock on her bedroom door. Not that Elaine has ever hurt her…

This time, though, it’s clear that the situation will be longer term, and Aunt Minnie, nine months pregnant, sends Uncle Stan to Portland to collect Francie and bring her to Burbank. Because Francie won’t get on a plane, her care is transferred (like a baton) from Stan (urgently flying back for the imminent birth) to Shrina (her babysitter) to Stan’s second cousin (for the train trip) to Stan at the other end. At the house she meets Aunt Minnie and her new cousin, Vicky.

Now almost twenty years older, and still carrying memories of that time, Francie feels the need to withdraw socially from almost everyone, to properly examine exactly what happened during this upheaval in her life. Because it was a strange few days, and it began at the babysitter’s with a butterfly lampshade, from which one of the insects materialised, floated in a water glass and was drunk down. A beetle that escaped a page, a besuited pair on a train and roses that fell from a curtain: these all need to be examined.

Up to now, Francie “could feel the memories there, wanting my attention, but I did not know what to do with them”, they “came to me in parts, in fragments and pieces, tugging at the corners of my thinking like a half-captured dream”. Her cousin talks of “sticky memories” and Francie enlists her help to create a place where she can concentrate her thoughts on remembering: “I liked the idea of giving the memories a place to emerge, like they had an inherent gaseous nature, and the tent would prevent them from floating away.” Remember she does, in intricate detail. What effect will it have on her?

What a magical story Bender has created! The narrative jumps back and forth to different times of Francie’s life, yet is easy to follow. Eight-year-old Francie is a wonderful character: clever, sensitive and insightful, with a pragmatism that guides her in protecting herself and those for whom she cares. These characters are easy to invest in, to care about. There’s a tinge of paranormal that adds to the fascination.

Bender has a marvellous turn of phrase: “my thought returned to its track, a train lining up synaptically that I could now get on and ride” and “Who would handle my mother’s clothes and perfumes? It was all spread in bits, like the trash we had left in Salinas, this life rubble” are examples. This is a brilliant read!
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Random House UK.

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Author Information

Aimee Bender Author Biography

Photo: Jerry Bauer

Aimee Bender is the author of six books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures (2005) which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010) which won the SCIBA award for best fiction, and an Alex Award, and The Color Master, a NY Times Notable book for 2013. Her latest novel, The Butterfly Lampshade, is forthcoming from Doubleday in July 2020. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages.

Her short fiction has been published in Granta, GQ, Harper's, Tin House, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, and more, as well as heard on PRI's "This American Life"and "Selected Shorts".

She lives in ...

... Full Biography
Link to Aimee Bender's Website

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