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 Lucan.com]