Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction, Heather Rose, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, University of Queensland Press

‘The Butterfly Man’ by Heather Rose


Fiction – paperback; University of Queensland Press; 315 pages; 2006.

Some of the best novels take a real life story and turn it into entertaining fiction. Jake Arnott’s The Firm particularly springs to mind.

In The Butterfly Man, Heather Rose takes the real life case of Lord Lucan, who disappeared on the night of November 7, 1974 following the brutal murder of the nanny looking after his three children, and poses the question, what if?

She has Lord Lucan reinvent himself as Henry Kennedy, a Scottish man, who emigrates to Australia. Here, he lives a quiet life in a house he built himself on a forest-covered mountain in Hobart, Tasmania. Together with his lover, Lili, a TV presenter, who has secrets of her own to keep, he is far from the gambling upper-class Englishman he once was.

But when Henry is diagnosed with a brain tumour, his illness has an uncanny way of making him say things he does not mean to say. And so he must do all he can to prevent himself from inadvertently confessing the sins of the past as his illness takes a hold.

Rose paints a very convincing portrait of a deeply troubled man not fully able to escape his past.

Her carefully constructed narrative reveals how Lord Lucan transforms himself into a new man, first by having his face “repaired” by a dodgy surgeon, and then slowly but surely losing his posh accent and upper-class manners in the wilds of Africa.

She undercuts this with glimpses of Lord Lucan’s previous life in Belgravia, London, as a man heavily in debt and unable to deal with his increasingly demanding wife, Veronica.

And this is further intertwined with Henry’s new existence in Tasmania, the peace of which is not only shattered by his terminal illness but the appearance of Lili’s estranged and drug-troubled daughter, Suki, and young bubbly grandchild, Charlie.

This is a highly original work of fiction about deception and the ties that bind us to the past. At first, it took me awhile to get used to Rose’s staccato style of writing, but I soon learned to enjoy her short, snappy sentences. This stripped back prose allows the story to shine through without the clutter of unnecessary language.

The dialogue is particularly good, and her cast of characters, including Henry’s neighbour Jimmy and his business partner Stan, are convincing and give added weight to the narrative.

Unfortunately, the book does not seem to be available outside of Australia, which is a great shame given it is such a fascinating story that would appeal to anyone intrigued by Lord Lucan’s disappearance.

[You can find out more about the real story of Lord Lucan’s disappearance at Lord]

15 thoughts on “‘The Butterfly Man’ by Heather Rose”

  1. I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. As an avid reader myself, I am always excited to get a glowing recommendation for a book. This is definitely going on my “to read” list!


  2. I just read the Butterfly Man – it’s brilliant – why on earth isn’t it available in the UK? Friends in the UK asked me to get it for them because people there are talking about it but no-one can get it!


  3. James, it’s a shame, isn’t it, because really this is a subject close to many English hearts. I’ve not met anyone from the UK who isn’t fascinated about the whole Lord Lucan disappearance…


  4. I heard the author speaking on radio and apparently the British publishers have been turning it down because they don’t want an Australian telling ‘their’ story… – maybe we should make the same rules apply here to people like Matthew Neale…


  5. James, that sounds so short-sighted and precious, doesn’t it? If they’re so intent on having one of them writing Lucan’s story, why haven’t they done it yet? The man disappeared more than 30 years ago!


  6. hi kimbofo, I read your book last month and found it hugely enjoyable and towards the end a real page-turner. Thank you again! As soon as I’ve written my short review, your copy will travel on to new eager readers.


  7. I just found the audio version of “The Butterfly Man” at the public library here in my town on Colorado. It was a great recording of a really fine book. I’ve known the story of Lord Lucan for years, but Rose’s ideas of what happened gave me more to think about. In fact, she gave me a lot to mull over: the secrets people keep, the process of terminal illness, what makes a family, how do we forgive ourselves and find redemption.
    I’m so glad I took it off the shelf.


  8. I live in MA in the US and just finished this audiobook. Needless to say I loved it enough to be online looking for more info. Specifically I’d like to know if this author has written anything else. I think it’s interesting that the audiobook is available in the US but the book isn’t. When I enjoy an audiobook as much as I did this one, I like to pick up the book too to at least read about the author and see if there’s anything in the book that wasn’t in the audiobook. Now I’m looking for other audiobooks read by Humphrey Bower. He did such a fabulous job with this one!


  9. Lisa, as far as I know she’s written one other book — White Heart (her debut) — but I’ve not read it. Sometimes it can be hard to get hold of Australian novels if they have only sold Australia & New Zealand rights.


  10. Wow – I am Heather Rose, the author of The Butterfly Man and just found this on-line!
    Thank you kimbofo for your warm words and to all the readers who have expressed their
    enthusiasm. It is really appreciated! I agree with Lisa that Humphrey Bower did
    an amazing job with the audio book. I do have another book coming out in July 2009
    with Allen & Unwin in Australia. It’s called The River Wife. My website is
    Thank you all!


  11. Do you think the book is better for being an imagined extrapolation of the life of a real person (with all the lack of authenticity that inevitably brings) or would it have been better to have been a complete work of fiction with no pretense of a link to real life events?


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