Monday, June 21, 2010

Lady of the Butterflies

by Fiona Mountain

Sometimes reviews are easier to write than others.  The problem doesn't always lie with the book but with me.  Tonight my mind just doesn't want to turn out anything but gushing praises for this book - the writing was great, story very interesting, time period and setting right spot on, characters fully fleshed out and intriguing, my interest in the facts were sparked and my scientific interest satisfied.  I loved this sweeping novel featuring Eleanor Glanville, a lady ahead of her time and out of sync with the superstitious believes of those around her.

In my last post I interviewed my Mom about a book she read.  As I was sitting staring at my empty screen with my blank mind I decided I would try answering the same questions I asked my Mom.  This is not a new idea but it will be the first time for me.

1.  What did the title have to do with the story?
The whole 527 pages of this book tells a fictionalized story based on the real Eleanor Glanville who lived in the late 1600s and developed a deep passion for natural sciences, especially the study of butterflies.  This passion was not understood by society and her family.
2.  Why did you decide to read this book?
    I requested a copy from the LibraryThings Early Reviewer Program after reading the description.  Being a former biology teacher I wanted to learn more about Eleanor and her struggle to study science in the late 1600s.
3.  How does the author make the setting important?
    Lady of the Butterflies is set in Somerset before the moors were drained.  The author describes the cold, muddy winter well and, though they sound horrible to me, they provided a way of live for the tenet farmers, eel fishers, sedge-cutters and water-fowl hunters that live around and rely on Eleanor's Tickenham Manor.  A great deal of conflict arises when discussion of draining the moors threatens to hurt so many people's livelihood.  The setting is also important because of the butterflies that lived there and were studied by Eleanor.
4.  How does point of view shape the book?
    The story is told from Eleanor's perspective, so the reader sees and sympathizes with her, in her relations with her father, her two husbands, her children and her friends.  We feel justified when she is angry and suspicious of Richard.  We want her to have some of the "colors" of life that she longs for and is missing in her father's strict Puritan ways.  We are thrilled with Eleanor's discoveries and her reasoning skills and see them as she does not as the superstitious and unlearned people of the tenants see her.
5.  Did this book remind you of anything that has happened to you?
    When I was still working on my college degree to become a biology teacher I remember a fellow student saying something to the idea that if man can figure out how light is split apart by droplets of water to make a rainbow that it disproves a God because we can see it's nature and not God who makes a rainbow.  That was so surprising to me because I feel like knowing the properties of light and its ability to be split into colors helped me appreciate how God uses natural laws.  I saw science as one way to learn and understand the ways of God.  Granted, there is a long way to go and much knowledge gathering to be done, but each new discovery fills me with wonder and awe at the magnitude of God's knowledge and ability.  On p 270 Eleanor just learned how white light can be split into the colors of a rainbow.  She says, "If experiment can reveal the components of light, maybe it can illuminate the rest of God's works."  My feelings exactly!
    Eleanor lived at a time when spontaneous generation accounted for flies coming from dung, frogs from mud, etc.  She had heard talk that some botanists of the day claimed butterflies metamorphosed from worms.  Near blasphemy!  Not long ago I had a monarch caterpillar that I put into a jar along with some of a milkweed plant.  I watched it make it's coffin (as Eleanor called it) and one day when I was watching the butterfly came out.  I held it on my finger in the sunshine for over 30 minutes as it's wings dried and it got its bearings before it flew away.  It was Eleanor's hope that if metamorphosis was real that she would get to see it.  I hoped all the way through that she would be rewarded with the good fortune to see it as I did.

I absolutely loved this book.  There were times when plots were being laid and foundation information unfolded that I wondered if this book could have been a little shorter, but now I don't think so.  Can't wait to hear from someone else who has read Lady of the Butterflies and we can discuss it together.

You can learn more about the book at Fiona Mountain's website.  It's very interesting.  And you can find out about the other books Fiona has written.  I know I'll be checking out another one.


Zibilee said...

Oh wow! I am a big lover of butterflies and think this book sounds wonderful! I am going to be adding this one to my wish list right now! Thanks for the excellent review!

Nora said...

This sounds like a really good book :)
I'm going to have to consider reading it after I've gotten through all the other books I intend to read this summer :P

Kristen M. said...

I received this one from LTER as well. I have two other review books to read first and then I will get to read this one. I'm excited!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This sounds great! Interesting thoughts and it looks like a book I might have to pick up!

Anonymous said...

I thought you might be interested to know that we have been filming a few sections from the book for an actor friend of ours (for her show reel). Fiona Mountain has been thrilled by the results. We will turn the footage into a 'book trailer' shortly, but see what you think of what we have done so far: and there was an earlier mention on the blog too: I hope you like our interpretaiton of Eleanor Glanville!