Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

The Parrs are an odd family, descended from a liaison between a seventeenth century Nina Parr, alone and languishing in a remote Cornish mansion, and Charles II while he was on the run from Cromwell’s forces. This Nina Parr hid the future king and kept him safe, and in gratitude, Charles decreed the estate would always pass through the female line, with an allowance for its upkeep.

Harriet Evans’s novel is about the latest Nina Parr, who knows nothing of her illustrious ancestry, living with her American mother in London, a broken marriage behind her at barely 25. Nina’s life is broken in more ways than one. Her father disappeared while researching butterflies in the Amazon when she was a baby, she works at a menial job, having thrown in the towel with her studies and she doesn’t get out much. Frankly she’s a bit of a mess.

A strange meeting at the London Library with a shrill old woman throws everything into turmoil. There’s a suggestion that her father might after all be alive, so has Nina's mother been lying all along? Interspersed with Nina’s story is that of her grandmother, Theodora, who has her own personal tragedy in the years leading up to WW2.

The Butterfly Summer
is one of the more unusual novels I have read lately – there’s something fairy-tale like about it, but through Nina’s vivid and heart-felt narrative voice, it flows along like a story of our time. The Parr women are both blessed and benighted – their legacy has a sting in its tail, and there is much sadness, and even despair, before a resolution is reached. The bright and cheery cover might imply this is a frivolous story, but it is anything but. This is a well-crafted, quirky and intelligent read, much recommended.

Posted by JAM

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