Paperback: 286 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (1st Jun 2016)
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding...
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I have read a lot of creepy and twisted books, but this one … man oh man this was something else. I swear this book kept following me, from seeng it on Instagram, on random GoodReads posts, or someone else reading it on the train. OF COURSE I HAD TO PICK IT UP, because obviously the universe was telling me to. Who am I to deny the universe and its calling eh?
From the moment I started reading it, to the moment I finished and everything in between, I kept thinking “wtf wtf wtf” and questioning the sanity of this author in writing something like this and writing it so convincingly. Bittersweet. That's one good word to encapsulate how I really felt. Because a part of me feels twisted for enjoying this book and my sister has already mentioned what a creep I am for willingly reading this.. but if you’re here, if you’ve read this, you know what I mean.
Sure I have a morbid curiosity for all things weird and creepy - after all I have a bachelors degree in criminology, I based several a-level projects on serial killers, and I love watching horror movies and ghost stories. This was nothing short of any of those - and something I found myself repeating both in my head and to my colleague at work when I described this book was that though there was enough horror and fear in the things being said in the book, there was even more so for the things left unsaid. At some points of the book there are graphic details, but a lot of it is left to your imagination. I appreciated this on two levels - 1. for not bombarding the reader with every detail to the point you feel it’s too much - and 2. the narrator of this story tells it in this way.
At first I was slightly miffed in the way our main character, Maya, recounts the absolute nightmare of what happened - and I was like “why is she so calm about this? WHY IS SHE NOT AS HORRIFIED AS I AM?!” when she first landed in the garden, she didn’t even ATTEMPT any escape or tears or fear - and though we find out in the end exactly as to why this was, before I got to that revelation, I also realised it was because we can't feel the fresh horror which she faced because she was merely recounting the story, her memories of a past, told in the present.
She was a great narrator, because she was also an unreliable narrator which is always HUGELY entertaining in these novels. We can see from the get-go as Victor, the inspector in charge, is interrogating her, that she is holding something back. In the face of what has been discovered and continues to be discovered about the garden, from Maya herself or from the .. “things” that officers find on the premises of what was called “The Garden” Maya’s reluctance to blurt out everything, every story, every horror encountered, leads for you to naturally question her role in what happened and why she isn’t forthcoming in her revelations. Instead, she’s got a shield around her, she’s unyielding, not giving anything away and has an eerie calm about her. Which I totally loved.
As for Victor, I felt like he was such a spectacular character and the best person for the job in trying to unravel the story and decipher what happened in The Garden. His ability to get Maya to reveal things about herself, shown especially through the way he has daughters and a certain tone of voice from Victor can get his girls to be honest, was used on Maya to great effect and I love that Maya acknowledged that and went on to trust him and reveal things. And man oh man does she reveal things.
If you are a sensitive person, you will not be able to stomach this book I don’t think. It deals with a lot of heavy topics - mainly rape, abuse, torture, but also balances it out beautifully (as odd as it is to use that word for this book) with friendship, loyalty, morality - which I so loved because it stopped this book from plunging into pure horror and psychological thriller genre, with the way it balances a story against the acts committed. This story was so well written, well balanced, allowing you to experience the sheer horror of what happened but also keep your curiosity piqued right till the end.
I’ve read quite a few rape/sexual assault novels (What Happens Next, What We Saw, Exit, Pursued By A Bear) and I urge others to read them as a lesson, as a way to shed light in YA on the wrong in society that reflects so well in fiction. But with this book? I won’t even lie - it’s not an important book that will open your eyes to some greater revelation. It doesn't educate you on any topics - except the only message I can see that came from this book was how easy it is to choose not to say anything, thinking you’re being neutral in the face of evil, when your choice to do that alone, is choosing the bad side. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”
This was such a haunting book, nothing like I’ve ever read before and I’m doubtless it will stick with me. I will plant it in my favourites shelf, and it’s a work of fiction that though I won’t find myself reaching for to read over and over like with other favourites - it will still be important to me in the story it told and the creepy but hooking way it did. I’m extremely partial to books opening with an interrogation - as I loved with Kids of Appetite (review here). The formatting and narrative in doing that is something I hugely enjoy - it takes away from the monotony of straight forward storytelling and instead breaks up the story into digestive past and present chunks, bringing you as much information as possible to keep you interested but keeps enough from you, to keep you going. The opening also reminds me of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (review here) in the way the main character, a girl, is brought in from the wreckage of something far more sinister but is again reluctant to share everything that happens. These openings sure do make for a compelling read.
Warning - slight spoilers ahead!
I didn’t like the ending though - I wanted a larger reason as to why she kept the truth from them - maybe a dark secret about herself, or that she was involved in the murder or escape. Instead I found myself thinking that she did all this so Sophia would be kept out of it - she knew she had landed in what Sophia escaped, and when Desmond eventually came around to seeing his wrongness in all this, rather than letting him call the police and bring the shitstorm down, she could have just told him to find Sophia, and pass along a message that she could use to tip the police off anonymously (thus ensuring her safety and her kids which is what Maya wanted to do). But at the same time could have helped saved all the other girls. In which case, though she didn’t commit those acts like The Gardner, how different is she than Desmond who she called a coward for not risking it, when she risked possibility, hope of escape for the other girls by staying quite?
Speaking of which - The Gardner - I wanted him to be more sinister, he seemed like he would be an absolute psycho, but somehow seeing his character unfold and the obvious clash of kindness vs the mean creep inside him, actually made it even worse. The level of delusion that Maya thinks he held himself in, was really really strong. To have convinced himself that he really did care for these girls. It was crazy. Creepy. So so weird. As for the other characters - I loved the girls. Every character, every personality, the depth and differences to each one was spellbinding and honest and so raw. The loyalty and how they bonded together in the face of evil was heartwarming (again, another weird word to use for such a book but there we have it). And finally Avery - I hated Avery with such passion, he was a horror beyond horror, man oh man.
The central theme of butterflies that The Gardner was obsessed with - was quite something. How in his mind he had personified each girl into a butterfly, named them after butterflies, and inked them as such - and eventually preserved them - it was fantastically creepy and horrific but also I’ve not read anything quite like it. How he called himself The Gardner, tending to his garden and his creatures, again, absolutely weird and scary but like all things with this book, the writing, the story, the characters - it’s unforgettable and a book that I want everyone *looks directly at you* to read and enjoy so you too can be a weirdo like me who enjoyed such a book. PS. THERE'S GOING TO BE ANOTHER BOOK. I will surely die.