Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

When you read as much and as often as me, sometimes books can start to seem as if they are all the same. The story doesn’t really appear unique, the characters begin to blend into one, and everything just stops being exciting. When that happens, I know I need to shake things up and get out of my comfort zone in terms of the books I’m reading. I went to my local Indigo bookstore and asked them to recommend me a story that is creepy in its plot structure and content. This book was what I was given. And let’s just say that it did not disappoint in its creepiness!

This story begins at the end – FBI agents have discovered a beautiful garden near an isolated mansion with beautiful flowers – and a collection of beautiful women who have been tattooed as “butterflies”. These young women have been kidnapped from all over America and have been “cultivated” by the Gardener, a brutal twisted man, obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens. Now, with the garden discovered, FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are hoping to find out the identities of all of the girls and give their parents the closure and comfort they need. They have a survivor, a girl who goes by the name Maya, in hand but instead of helping them, she only serves to puzzle them further. As her story begins to shed light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals the friendship between the girls, as well as the horrific lengths a man would go to in order to capture beauty. But the more she shares, the more the agents begin to wonder if she really was a victim in the first place….

I always like to read others’ reviews before reading a book because it gives me an idea of what I’m getting into and what the common consensus seems to be about the story. Quite a few people complained about this novel being too slow, not enough of a thriller, and showing women as being completely incapable of defending themselves. While I can understand where people were coming from, I still found that the novel worked on so many levels and was extremely well done.

The novel is slow and it is by no means a thriller. But that is what gives this novel its depth and allows it to show a different perspective to usual stories of kidnapping. The story takes place in the aftermath of the heinous crimes of the Gardener, which is important to keep in mind. The action that readers usually expect to see, where the police are scrambling to get to the victims and figure out who the criminal is doesn’t happen in this story. The police already have the Gardener at hand, they have as many of the victims with them as they can save. All they are trying to do is piece together what happened to get them to this point in time. That is why this novel is so slow, because it is made up of recollections and observations that Maya makes both before her time in the Garden as well as during her time there. Seeing the world from her perspective is refreshing, because Maya is not your typical protagonist. She isn’t the natural leader, she is just another girl trying to survive, using whatever is advantageous to her. And that is probably why she – along with a bunch of the victims – survive their ordeal.

There is a lack of emotion when Maya describes the violent and despicable things that have happened to her and the other girls here, but I didn’t see that as apathy or an inability to take care of herself. Instead, I saw it is as a coping mechanism, and it just served to emphasize how much suffering these girls have gone through. I also understand why the girls didn’t feel like they could escape. Most of these girls were sheltered, had never had to defend themselves, could never imagine a life like the one in the Butterfly Garden. In a place where there are cameras everywhere, where every word and every interaction you have is watched, and where the punishment is death no matter what you do, what would be the point of staging a revolt? Frankly, those girls were expendable; every time one of them died, another person would come and take their place. If I try to imagine myself in their place, in those kind of conditions…. I don’t think I would have been able to fight, either. This is one of the reasons why I actually really liked this novel: it showed that there is a bravery in enduring the worst that there is and still surviving. It showed how easy it is to succumb and not fight. It portrayed the victim’s plight in a realistic light, and didn’t just paint them as badass fighters waiting for a leader who would help them escape into the world. Because, to be quite honest, that’s not how the real world works at all.

The only grievance I had with this novel was the discovery that there was a Butterfly who had managed to escape. It seemed like this aspect was randomly introduced and didn’t serve much of a purpose. If anything, it just left a lot of unanswered questions, and poked holes in the story. The explanations behind it weren’t that well justified, either, so I wasn’t very satisfied with the effect of this reveal.

Overall, this novel is thought-provoking, and twisted. It definitely served its purpose in giving me something new to read, and making me feel creeped out. I thought that every aspect was well thought out and executed, and other than a few minor details, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this story. I hope you will decide to give this novel a shot, like I did, because it definitely deserves one!

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