Sound of Butterflies (P.S. Series)

( 1 )


Sophie Edgar barely recognizes her husband, Thomas, an amateur naturalist, when he returns from the Amazon, where he had hoped to find his long-dreamed-of mythical butterfly, Papilio sophia. The optimistic young Edwardian gentleman is gone, replaced by a weak, nearly mute shadow of the man she married. Unable to break through his heartbreaking silence, Sophie must glean what she can from his diaries and boxes of exquisite butterflies in order to discover what happened to Thomas in the lush and perilous jungles of...

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Sophie Edgar barely recognizes her husband, Thomas, an amateur naturalist, when he returns from the Amazon, where he had hoped to find his long-dreamed-of mythical butterfly, Papilio sophia. The optimistic young Edwardian gentleman is gone, replaced by a weak, nearly mute shadow of the man she married. Unable to break through his heartbreaking silence, Sophie must glean what she can from his diaries and boxes of exquisite butterflies in order to discover what happened to Thomas in the lush and perilous jungles of Brazil. In the process, she learns as much about herself and her marriage as she does about the secrets harbored by a haunted soul.

A magnificent debut, written in rich and sensuous prose, Rachael King's The Sound of Butterflies is an unforgettable journey from the demure gentility of turn-of-the-twentieth-century England into the heart of darkness.

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Editorial Reviews

Bethanne Patrick
King's book has flaws: Sophie's progressive best friend is a lively character with too little to do, and a side plot involving the accommodating military captain and Sophie's father goes nowhere. However, these are small irregularities in a captivating story.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In this rich debut from New Zealander King, amateur naturalist Thomas Edgar leaves his young wife, Sophie, behind, and sets off from turn-of-the-20th-century England for the Brazilian Amazon. His quarry is an elusive butterfly that he hopes to be the first to find and name for his wife-the Papilio sophia. Thomas returns to England many months later physically weak, obviously disturbed and unable to speak. Frustrated and concerned, Sophie desperately seeks the cause of his turmoil. Her search reveals a world of corruption and violence, spearheaded by the rubber tycoon, Mr. Santos, who bankrolled Thomas and his fellows. King employs Apocalypse Nowlevels of depravity to get across the greedy, exploitative nature of the rubber trade at the beginning of the 20th century; it's enough to make the protagonist mute, and it may have a similar effect on the squeamish reader. But the violent twists are more shocks to the system than to the plot, which founders when furthest from Thomas and Sophie. There's plenty of life in their strained marriage, though, making this a noteworthy debut, and King a writer to watch. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
In this debut novel about love, betrayal and devotion, King offers a vibrant portrayal of a jungle inner-world and the characters who roam within it. It is the beginning of the 20th century and the rubber business is booming in Brazil. Rubber barons feed their horses champagne and send their clothes to Europe for laundering while they treat their workers like slaves and mercilessly kill objectors. Into this dangerous world of avarice and corruption steps Thomas Edgar, an idealistic young naturalist intent on discovering a rumored new species of butterfly. Five months later he returns to England, scarred and mute. His young and stoic wife, Sophie, determines to unravel the mystery of Thomas's muteness and bring back the man she loves. King deftly moves between past and present, gradually revealing the truth through journal entries, letters and two narratives, relayed from Sophie's point of view in England and Thomas's in Brazil. Sensuous descriptions and multidimensional characters carry the novel. Gross displays of wealth, intense bloodlust and the immense beauty and danger of the jungle enrapture, providing a sharp contrast to the tightly-corseted society of early 20th-century England. As Thomas's quest for his perfect butterfly becomes a symbol for flawlessness that does not exist, both he and Sophie must learn to live with their imperfections and adopt a more real, honest love. As lush and captivating as the jungle in which it is set.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061357701
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/4/2008
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,521,670
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachael King has worked in radio, television, magazines, and as a musician. She holds an M.A. in creative writing and has received many accolades in her native New Zealand, including the New Zealand Society of Authors Best First Novel at the New Zealand Book Awards for The Sound of Butterflies. Rachael lives in Wellington.

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Read an Excerpt

The Sound of Butterflies
A Novel

Chapter One

Richmond, England, May 1904

Nothing in the letter suggests to Sophie that her husband will arrive home a different man. It is a strange, unfinished kind of a letter, written four months earlier and somehow delayed in its journey to her. She hasn't heard from Thomas for some time, but she has forced herself not to worry, and, after all, she knows from his agent, Mr. Ridewell, that he is at least safe, if not happy. The letter comes on the very same day she receives an unexpected note from Ridewell stating that Thomas will be arriving on the train from Liverpool at eleven o'clock on Friday. She throws open all the windows in the house—letting in the spring air and startling the vicar, who is walking past, swinging an umbrella and checking the sky for rain—and leads her maid Mary in a mission to scrub every surface of the house, driven by a mad energy that has long been absent from her body. As the day comes nearer, however, her joy is replaced by apprehension. She has to steel herself with the knowledge that something has changed; their bond, which seemed so strong in the past, is little more than a daisy chain, stretched between them, that has curled and broken and died.

The train from Liverpool shudders into the station and stops with a sigh. Sheets of steam rise and hiss; flowers of mist swirl and cling to her before thinning and melting away. She has a moment of stillness in which to scan the windows before the doors open and the platform comes alive with a sudden bustle. She braces her body against the crowd. Trunks thud as they hit the ground. A porter pushes a luggage trolleyso close that she has to snatch her skirts to her body to prevent them being caught in the wheels and dragged away. Her head jerks about as she scans the faces—many of them obscured by the low brims of hats—looking for her husband. She's not even sure she will recognize him if she sees him.

A bag crashes against her leg and she reaches out to steady herself, catching a man's arm. He looks up in surprise and she pulls her hand away.

"I'm sorry," she says.

The man smiles and touches the rim of his hat with one fat forefinger. A kind smile, from beneath a thick auburn mustache, which she returns before the man spins away, his long brown coat fanning around him, to bark orders. The unfortunate porter he addresses balances several crates and cases on a trolley while struggling to push it at the same time.

Only after the throng clears—after it finally moves away, and the clatter of luggage and the rustle of skirts and cloaks evaporate with it—does she see him. He stands alone. He is a narrow figure in a cloak creased in folds, as if bought off a shelf in Liverpool that day. It swamps him but he appears to be shivering in spite of it. His head is bare and in his arms he holds a large Gladstone bag.

She has imagined this meeting: that she would run at him and he would lift her up and kiss her. She has even fantasized about the feeling of his skin against hers; she has been aching for him.

But it is not to be. Sophie feels his eyes inside her, on her face, in her hair, but he makes no move toward her. His eyebrows are bunched together and his mouth is tightly pursed. But of course, this is how Thomas's face has arranged itself every day she has known him, a permanently worried expression supported by childlike features, which have always kept him younger than his twenty-seven years.

"My darling." She walks forward, puts her hands on his shoulders and kisses his cheek. It is tough under her lips. His skin is hardened and scarred and his whiskers are coarser, darker. His eyes, level with hers, are corollas of white-blue under slim gold eyebrows. Something in them has changed. They are sharper, colder; his newly tanned skin throws them into stark relief. His pupils tremble and his breath comes in short squeezes. Red, scaly hands hold his bag tight and do not return the embrace.

This is just not how things were meant to be. Her hands still rest on his shoulders and she wants to shake him. To shake him and say, What have you done with my husband? Where is Thomas?

A voice comes from behind her.

"Mrs. Edgar."

She turns her head. The man whose arm she grabbed stands with his large brown bowler hat in his hands. He bows, showing Sophie the top of his head, which has only a thin coating of copper hair. "I am Francis Ridewell."

The agent. She hadn't seen him inching up to them, hadn't even heard his shoes on the hard stones.

"Yes, of course," she says. "Thank you for bringing my husband home. Your letter was most unexpected." Her hands still rest on Thomas's shoulders. She is surprised to see them there. She pulls them away, reclaiming them.

"The thing is, madam . . ."

The man pauses. He gives a flicking motion of his head as he indicates the seat under the awning. He wants her to move away, to sit down with him. She checks her husband. His eyes are closed now. She wavers, uncertain for a moment, but as Mr. Ridewell moves away she follows.

He waits for her to sit before doing so himself, and while he fusses around arranging his coat, she asks him, impatient now: "Is he all right, Mr. Ridewell? Has something happened?"

Mr. Ridewell shakes his head. "I really don't know. It's most peculiar. I received a letter from a man in Brazil informing me of the date Mr. Edgar's ship would be arriving back in Liverpool. He was like this when I met him at the dock. I spoke to the steward of the ship . . . They thought he was deaf at first. He wouldn't respond to any questions, not even with a yes or no. But they saw him turn at some commotion on board, and when there was a fire in the hold he came running with everyone else, so he heard the alarm. But they still couldn't get any words out of him."

The Sound of Butterflies
A Novel
. Copyright © by Rachael King. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. Compare the descriptions of the two places the novel is set: Richmond and the Amazon Basin. Discuss the effect of the equatorial climate on the four Englishmen.

2. What is the significance of the title The Sound of Butterflies?

3. What are the different types of silence in the book?

4. What are Sophie's difficulties and how does she act to overcome them? What does she hope to achieve by the fire?

5. What roles do Agatha, Captain Fale and Charles Winterstone play in Sophie's dilemma? Are they a help or a hindrance?

6. What signposts along the way signal Thomas's moral decline? What makes him sympathetic?

7. What do moths symbolize in the novel?

8. Today, Thomas might be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Do you agree? What would be a comparable situation today that might cause this? How might he be treated today?

9. Do we depend too much upon emerging countries for labor and natural resources today? What is the responsibility of first world countries to second and third world countries?

10. Is Sophie a good wife—why or why not?

11. Is Thomas morally obligated to take action against what he has witnessed? Why or why not?

12. The character of Rodrigues, the newspaper editor, suffers twice for speaking out—once for printing a story in his newspaper, then again, fatally, for sharing his knowledge with Thomas. What is the significance of the right of freedom of speech? Is it a good thing and would you have done what Rodrigues does or kept quiet?

13. Is it ever acceptable to read the diary of a family member?

14. Have we lost something by using email rather than hand-written letters to communicate? How much does Thomas hold back in his letters to Sophie? Are they a true representation of his feelings for her and for his experiences? If not, what is missing?

15. What do you think of the idea: that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger? Are Thomas and Sophie (and their marriage) stronger for their experiences?

16. How does what each man collect and how he goes about it reflect his personality?

17. How would you handle each of the discoveries Sophie makes about her husband? Should love be unconditional between a husband and wife?

18. In what way is John different from the other men, both superficially and on a deeper level? What are the different types of education in the novel? How does each type of education serve or not serve each of the men on their journey?

19. Throughout history animals have been used to symbolize different things. What role do the animals of the jungle play in the novel and if so what purpose do they serve?

20. How does the presence of Clara and Santos change how the men behave in the camp?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2009

    A Great Read!

    Thrilling and touching, I highly recommend this book. It is not for the faint-hearted, but the violence is not graphic or gratuitous as another reviewer here suggested. Sometimes shocking things happen in books - it does not mean the writer condones them. They are all part of the character's journey. If you like exotic locations, great writing and fascinating character and story, this is the book for you.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2008

    I was disappointed with this book

    I got this book a non-profit bookstore. But I was disturbed by the fact that the author was had a character in there who was raping a child. It was bad writing and it made me hate the book. She could have written about something else and not one of the character not wanting to get him in trouble for the rape. It took away from wanting to learn about the butterfly collecting.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fantastic historical tale

    Nouveau riche Brazilian rubber barons throw away money on the frivolous things like sending their soiled clothing to Europe for cleaning. They treat their pets like royalty and their employees as expendable slaves discarded if unable to perform the horrific field work. Anyone who objects to the abusive maltreatment is killed.-------------- In 1904 English naturalist Thomas Edgar comes to Brazil in search of a rumored new butterfly species. Several months later, he comes home, a shell of his former enthusiastic self. Although outwardly she shows her spouse little emotion beyond welcoming him home, his wife Sophie, horrified by the scars all over Thomas¿ body and his withdrawal, needs to know what happened to her silent her idealistic husband because she plans to heal him with her love.-------------------- THE SOUND OF BUTTERFLIES is a fantastic historical tale that provides a vivid light on a cruel Dickensian period in Brazil. The story line moves back and forth between January1904 in Brazil and May 1904 in England connected by a journal, letters and the perspectives of what happened to the naturalist from that of his wife and himself. Adding to the fascination of this powerful early twentieth century character study is the parable of searching for the perfect specimen in a world of cruelty, abuse and imperfection. Rachael King provides a somber glimpse of inhumane treatment and its aftermath on one person and his spouse that still resonates today in world of genocide, ethnic cleansing and rationalized rendition.----- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

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