Reading Down Under

Butterfly Man by Heather Rose

It is quite a surprise for a native English reader the sheer amount of Australian literature that is about immigrants into the country. It serves to heighten the classical idea that Australia was was a place to escape to, certainly an irony considering it’s original use by the British Empire.
Butterfly Man is based on the real life events of Lord Lucan, a member of the English aristocracy who was accused of murdering one of his staff and apparently died on a motor boat on the Thames attempting his escape. Heather Rose takes this base of fact and creates an impressive character, a character who we would consider to be a lie. Lord Lucan has died and reborn himself anew as Scotsman Henry Kennedy, living in Tasmania. At this point you may not think much of this story, it bares very little to truly define itself in a genre awash with men-on-the-run characters. So here’s where I think Heather Rose really does add a dash of originality: it’s decades down the line and Henry Kennedy is diagnosed with inoperable brain tumours that are slowly but surely wearing down his body and mind. Added to this is the latest discovery that his partner has a wayward daughter who turns up on their doorstep with a son of her own. What follows is a touching story of a man determined not to give up the life he created, not even when his partner is baring her soul about her past in an attempt to be totally honest about hers.
It’s surprising how much you grow to care about Kennedy and how totally seperate he is from Lord Lucan, flash backs invovling his former character are always done with a touch of disdain and even shame at the worst parts. What really sells the story to me though is that as he looses his grip on reality he begins to loose sight of what really happened with the Nanny he was accused of murdering. He runs through scenarios as to what happened, slowly leading you to realise that he no longer knows WHAT really occurred. It’s all so wonderfully human and touching, even if you find yourself disagreeing with the character you find yourself caring for.
Henry’s realtionship with Lili is wonderfully portrayed as two people who hoenstly never expected themselves to love another human being. Their consideration for each other during Henry’s final months is harrowing and beautiful, marked with patience rather than dispair. The book actually opens with a day towards the end of Henry’s life and I found that somewhat jarring to read, though it reminds you through the whole novel how Lili and Suki accept Henry and Lord Lucan even in his final days. My only problem with the book was that it ended too swiftly but this is probably a compliment to the writer more than anything else. The final chapters of the book flew by for me and completely made up for the beginning, which I considered somewhat weak. It is clear that Rose truly excels in presenting emotional experiences but the opening was somewhat jarring for me. The time placement wasn’t clear unless you already knew about the Lord Lucan case, only one passing reference to Princess Diana managed to give me an idea as to the time frame until actual years were mentioned. It is a hazard with writing on the British Aristocracy that the characters sound dated and older than they are and I feel Rose should have done more to address this fact.
Other than these two niggles though, I found the book an enjoyable read with some wonderful moments inside the mind of a man who is still trying to live a new life.

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