The Butterfly Cabinet

The Butterfly Cabinet

A Novel

Book - 2011
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Vivid, mysterious and unforgettable, The Butterfly Cabinet is Bernie McGill's engrossing portrayal of the dark history that intertwines two lives. Inspired by a true story of the death of the daughter of an aristocratic Irish family at the end of the nineteenth century, McGill powerfully tells this tale of two women whose lives will become upended by a newly told secret.

The events begin when Maddie McGlade, a former nanny now in her nineties, receives a letter from the last of her charges and realizes that the time has come to unburden herself of a secret she has kept for over seventy years: what really happened on the last day in the life of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old only daughter of the big house where Maddie was employed as a young woman. It is to Charlotte's would-be niece, Anna--pregnant with her first--that Maddie will tell her story as she nears the end of her life in a lonely nursing home in Northern Ireland.

The book unfolds in chapters that alternate between Maddie's story and the prison diaries of Charlotte's mother, Harriet, who had been held responsible for her daughter's death. As Maddie confesses the truth to Anna, she unravels the Ormonds' complex family history, and also details her own life, marked by poverty, fear, sacrifice and lies. In stark contrast to Maddie is the misunderstood, haughty and yet surprisingly lyrical voice of Harriet's prison diaries, which Maddie has kept hidden for decades. Motherhood came no more easily to Harriet than did her role as mistress of a far-flung Irish estate. Proud and uncompromising, she is passionate about riding horses and collecting butterflies to store in her prized cabinet. When her only daughter, Charlotte, dies, allegedly as the result of Harriet's punitive actions, the community is quick to condemn her and send her to prison for the killing. Unwilling to stoop to defend herself and too absorbed in her own world of strict rules and repressed desires, she accepts the cruel destiny that is beyond her control even as, paradoxically, it sets her free.

The result of this unusual duet is a haunting novel full of frightening silences and sorrowful absences that build toward the unexpected, chilling truth.
Publisher: New York : Free Press, 2011.
Edition: First Free Press hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781451611595
Characteristics: 227 pages ; 23 cm


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Nov 06, 2015

An interesting read about a woman convicted of the death of her daughter. The story alternates between a conversation of Maddie with her granddaughter, and the diary of the woman during her time in prison. Though an interesting story it is ponderous and plodding at times.

ChristchurchLib Jun 08, 2014

"In 1892, Harriet Ormond, the mistress of Oranmore House, was sent to prison for killing her four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, by binding her hands and shutting her inside a wardrobe. In 1968, Harriet's granddaughter Anna visits 92-year-old Maddie McGlade, a nursing home resident who was a servant at the estate at the time of Charlotte's death, seeking answers. Alternating between Maddie's account of her years at Oranmore and Harriet's own diary, this "chilling and gripping" (Booklist) novel slowly pieces together what really happened on that fateful day. Loosely based on a true story, The Butterfly Cabinet combines gothic suspense with an examination of social class and politics in late-19th-century Northern Ireland." Thrillers and Suspense June 2014 newsletter

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