The Butterfly Collector
Told in alternating timelines (1868 and 1922), Tea Cooper’s latest novel The Butterfly Collector requires attention to detail as the two plots take a bit of time to converge, but the payoff is well worth it.
In the first timeline, Theodora Breckenridge is riddled with grief after the loss of her parents and brother. She cannot bring herself to seek a husband in Sydney as her sisters do. They believe this should be her only aspiration. Instead, she stays on the family estate in Morpeth, Australia and hopes to make a name for herself with her illustrations of the natural world. When she discovers a butterfly unknown on Australia’s soil, her hopes seem possible. Theodora is supported by her maid, Clarrie, but tragedy strikes when Clarrie’s young son goes missing.
In 1922, reporter Verity Binks is in search of a story to make her name in the field. She is a spunky 1920s heroine with great insight and tenacity; her sections of the novel vibrate with energy. As she begins to investigate a local group called the Treadwell Foundation, known for supporting young women and their children, she stumbles upon some of the darkest secrets in Australian history: baby farming.
The novel has brilliant moments, but the two timelines aren’t clearly connected at first, and the connection that emerges isn’t strong enough to justify some of the choices. But fans of historical fiction and novels about women’s rights will likely enjoy The Butterfly Collector as long as they don’t expect too much about butterflies in the novel as a whole.
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