June 24, 2016
At night the Garden was a place of shadows and moonlight, where you could more clearly hear all the illusions that went into making it what it was.
The Butterfly Garden was a book I knew nothing about. I haven't been highly anticipating it for months and it only made it on to my "to read" shelf a few days ago. But it popped up in my GR feed and everything about it called to me. It exuded a dark creepiness that drew me in. It promised a story of beauty and horror. And my instincts were right - I was enthralled from page one.
Oh, where to start with this book.
It's set in the present with two FBI agents trying to uncover the truth behind the crime scene they have just discovered. What they know is that they have found "The Garden", a prison where the psychopath known as "The Gardener" has kept young women trapped for decades. He calls them "Butterflies", tattooing wings on their backs before renaming them, raping them and letting his violent son terrorize them.
Yes, they know this. We know this. But it is the witness they are interviewing - known only as Maya - who really knows what it was like behind the garden walls. The horrors that occurred. The truth behind what happens to the girls when they turn twenty-one. And maybe, just maybe, she knows something more. As she recounts her tale of life as a captive, it becomes clear that she is hiding something, and the agents begin to question what part Maya played in these crimes.
During the day there was conversation and movement, sometimes games or songs, and it masked the sound of the pipes feeding water and nutrients through the beds, of the fans that circulated the air. At night, the creature that was the Garden peeled back its synthetic skin to show the skeleton beneath.
It is a chilling, terrifying thriller, and yet it is so beautifully told. The perfect balance of ugliness and beauty.
And Maya is the perfect narrator. Mysterious, cynical, sympathetic. Full of secrets that keep us reading, but likable enough for us to be pulled along for the ride on an emotional level too. The author doesn't shy away from grotesque details, but it is so well-written, each character so well-crafted, that it never feels gratuitous or deliberately sensational.
But, perhaps the thing that makes The Butterfly Garden stand out so much from other thrillers that contain tension, mystery and psychopaths, is the relationship between the young women. The intricate friendships and different personalities. There are no throwaway characters and the author portrays each victim as an important individual in her own right.
“Honestly? I don’t think I know what that kind of love is. I’ve seen it in a few others, but for myself? Maybe I’m just not capable of it.”
“I can’t decide if that’s sad or safe.”
“I can’t think of any reason it can’t be both.”
The depth of the characterization is fascinating. The straight-talking, spirited Bliss who never knows when to shut her mouth. Zara the bitch who is mean to everyone and yet still claims our affection in the end. Lyonette who is the mother hen to the other girls. And aging Lorraine who is so far gone that she craves love and approval from the Gardener. All of them complex, layered and thought-provoking.
The Butterfly Garden is somehow both a horrifying thriller and the tale of the friendships and rivalries between young women. It's a strange combination that leaves the reader with a bittersweet aftertaste. I doubt I will ever forget it.
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