"What choices are you making, Desmond?" "I don't think I'm making any choices right now." "Then you're automatically making the wrong ones. [...] Not m
"What choices are you making, Desmond?" "I don't think I'm making any choices right now." "Then you're automatically making the wrong ones. [...] Not making a choice is a choice. Neutrality is a concept, not a fact. No one actually gets to live their lives that way."
Imagine the following scenario: You are living your normal life; as complicated and difficult as it may be, at least you are living your life in freedom. Until one day everything changes for you; someone kidnaps you; and you wake up in a huge mansion with a beautiful garden among several other girls and women and the only thing they can tell you is that you will not get out of this house alive. This scenario alone certainly provides a lot of food for scary thoughts, doesn't it? Dot Hutchison decided to use this as a premise to her novel and achieved a lot of success with it. She touches many interesting subjects within her novel and embeds them inside a captivating story which, to my knowledge, has never been told before in such an original way.
Trying to understand why that man did anything the way he did was a worthless endeavor.
"The Butterfly Garden" has been one of the literary sensations of 2016, scarcely losing the Best Horror Goodreads Choice Award to Joe Hill's The Fireman, and if you judge this book from its originality alone, then it deserves all the praise it received so far. The novel focuses on one long interrogation scene (reminiscent of Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne) between some FBI agents and a surviving victim of the aforementioned horrors, disrupted by several flashback scenes recounted by Maya, the protagonist, herself from her first-person narrative. Soon we learn more details about the dynamics of the events inside this garden and the horrifying man who is responsible for all this, the so-called Gardener: a man who kidnaps girls at the age of sixteen to rape them, abuse them, have his fun with them, and if they managed to survive that long, to kill them at their twenty-first birthday.
Other people got to look at a birthday and say, "Yay! One year older!" We met our birthdays with "Fuck. One year less."
Dot Hutchison decided to apply a narrative device well-known from both H.P. Lovecraft and many horror movies from the 80's: our fear of the unknown. This concept can be discovered in a general lack of characterizing the Gardener or exploring his motives except for his sociopathic sickness, and it certainly succeeds in causing the effect that even we ourselves never quite know what to expect from the book's villain.
All this sounds like a promising premise. I'm not going to delve deeper in what continues to happen in order to avoid spoiling anything for you, but personally I felt like the author left aside many chances of exploring possible dynamics between many of the characters. Instead we were confronted with an overload of characters, as we were introduced to one captivated woman after another, and soon it became almost impossible to keep track of all the names which were thrown into the text, causing a few difficulties to keep up with all the side characters. Throughout the novel, a constant decline of tension occurred, though luckily the author was ultimately able to capture my attention back again. There were also a number of plot holes - (view spoiler)[I had some trouble believing that it was never possible for twenty-five girls to unite against the Gardener and just take him out - and something which bothered me for the entire time was that it was never possible for me to get a clear, vivid picture of the garden. It was described as a beautiful place, but except for it being covered with a glass roof, we never learned if it was supposed to be a dome, a box or something entirely different. Also, the wife didn't notice anything for thirty years despite living right next to the garden? Seriously? (hide spoiler)]
If you've seen enough, you just look older, no matter what the rest of your face looks like.
The book is clearly not about the struggle between life and death since we were never allowed to really care about any of the characters; it's rather about what such horrors can do to a human being, and Dot Hutchison delved into this topic by providing a lot of insight on her characters' thoughts and struggles. She included a constant contradiction between the beauties and the horrors of this world - after all, how can it be possible to even imagine that abuse and death occur in a place as peaceful as "a garden so beautiful it nearly hurt to look at it; [where] brilliant flowers of every conceivable cover bloomed in a riotous profusion of leaves and trees, clouds of butterflies drifting through them"? Butterflies and wings turn into a constant metaphor of balancing the good and evil of this world.
At the heart of the Garden, though, was loneliness and the ever-present threat of shattering, and connecting with the others seemed the safer of two evils. Not the lesser, necessarily, but the safer.
I liked this book for most parts (except when it started to drag on and on and on sometime in the middle), and it was the first book for many months which I was able to finish in one sitting since I refused my eyes the right to wander anywhere else but this book. The atmosphere was tense and memorable, though in the end I don't think the book left me as satisfied as I had hoped it to. As you may have noticed, I even started to (over)analyze some of the narrative devices in order to avoid stating my personal opinions about the book. For now I am going to rate it with 3.5 stars, rounding it down to three because as addicting as it was, I still felt kind of empty when I put the book down again, and to be honest, the ending produced a frequent "what the heck?" inside my thoughts. (But senseless surprise twists seem to be something no thriller can live without anymore, so I'm not going to ponder over that. Though ... let's face it, the ending was stupid anyway.) I would still recommend this book to everyone who feels like reading it - if you can stomach the horrors of the book's premise. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted. But it's worth reading it even if only for the great writing alone - which is why I included some of the more interesting quotes I discovered during my reading experience.
"Right and wrong doesn't mean there's an easy choice."