In 1904, Sophie awaits her husband at the train station in Richmond. He is returning from the heart of the Brazilian jungle, seeking a mysterious, rumoured species of butterfly. When he arrives at the station Thomas is a shadow – scarred with insect bites, thin, and not speaking at all.
The narrative of The Sound of Butterflies involves Sophie’s frustration at her husband’s silence, as well as a slow-reveal of flashbacks to Thomas’ time in the jungle, with his scientific companions – all well-drawn, flawed, secondary characters.
The appeal of this book is in its tone, and themes of innocence and desire. At a sentence level it echoes literary classics – selective, elegant, artful prose – which heightens the bubbling of unspoken or drawn-out desires beneath the surface. Even Thomas’ passion for his butterflies is eroticised, as is the general pursuit of adventure, knowledge, the unknown. Temptation abounds for all the characters – quietly.
The narrative is a little frustrating at times in the actions of quiet Thomas. It seems necessary to draw out his silence, his awkward behaviours, as narrative drive. The reader does share their frustration with Sophie, who is a voice for it. The only thing is, at times it pulls the believability string just a little tight. Although the reader is slowly getting insight into Thomas’ condition, I wasn’t always 100% convinced that he would act that way for so long after. Nonetheless, it had a compelling effect as I waited to find out the why and the when as the story unfolds from its cocoon. And by the end has emerged a captivating butterfly.
The adventures in Brazil are the best part – described vividly through sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. New Zealand author King has obviously immersed herself in the era and the place in her research. The other scientists all suffer their own secrets, prejudices, moments of insight and anguish.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned adventure, heated by desire. The book embraces romance, discovery, and secrecy. This is a book to capture in your mental butterfly net before sleeping, causing rich, tropical dreams.
Rachael King has a fantastic blog, charting the writing life, which I have read very regularly ever since I put my name down for this book at work.