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Review of 'The Butterfly Garden' - Rachel Burton

A gripping and beautiful tale of love, loss and secrets. Perfect for fans of Rachel Hore, Lorna Cook and Kathryn Hughes.


1963: When Clara Samuels buys Butterfly Cottage, she knows the scandal she’ll cause. A single woman buying property is not the ‘done thing’, especially not in a village like Carybrook. But Clara has been in love with Butterfly Cottage, and its garden, since she used to play there before the War. And when she reconnects with her childhood friend James, her decision feels serendipitous. But the true scandal is yet to come, because within six months, Clara will leave England under mysterious circumstances, and Butterfly Cottage will stand empty for more than 50 years.

2018: No one is more surprised than Meredith when she’s bequeathed a cottage by a great aunt she’d never heard of. She hopes, briefly, that the inheritance could be the answer to her financial problems. But when she arrives in Suffolk, she is shocked to discover a man is already living there. A young gardener, who claims he was also bequeathed half of Butterfly Cottage.

As the pair try to unravel their complicated situation, they unearth a decades old mystery involving Clara, the garden, and a stack of letters left unread for over 50 years…

This is a tale of love and loss and the intricacies and difficulties of familial relationships weave their way through its very core. Nobody in this book has an uncomplicated relationship with their parents and perhaps this reflects a society which places unrealistic expectations on people. Although the book is largely set in the 1960s, many of the attitudes expressed are still prevalent today to a greater or lesser extent. Plus, as most people know, the impace of a difficult childhood can be a lasting one and can have repercussions as those children become parents themselves.

The end of the story is revealed relatively eagerly on in the book, but the ending was something of a surprise in terms of Clara's philosophy as she reflects on her life and the choices she made. In many ways, whilst the story is sad on one level, on another, I liked the fact that the main characters were given agency at a time when they would have had relatively little, given their gender/social class.

If you are interested in thoughtful novels which explore the place of family within life and society, then this is the book for you.

Rachel Burton is the bestselling author of historical timeslip novels and has previously written romantic comedies.

Rachel was born in Cambridge and grew up in a house full of books and records. She has read obsessively since she first realised those black squiggles on the pages that lined her parents’ bookshelves were actually words and it has gone down in family history that any time something interesting happened, she missed it because she had her nose in a book.

After reading for a degree in Classics and another in English Literature she accidentally fell into a career in law but her love of books prevailed as she realised that she wanted to slip into imaginary worlds of her own making. She eventually managed to write her first novel on her lunch breaks.

She is obsessed with old houses and the secrets they keep, with abandoned gardens and locked gates, with family histories and surprising revelations, and with the outcomes of those surprises many generations later.

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