Monday, August 27, 2012
Butterfly Hunter by Julie Bozza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This story bypassed my conscious brain and went straight to my heart, just the same way a new puppy eases into your bed despite your best intentions, and one morning you wake up to a velvety little snout nestled into the crook of your neck and you wonder how it came to be there, but at the same time you won’t even think about doing something about it because you’re much too blissfully happy to have it right there. Just the same way the love for Nicholas sneaked up to Dave, and when he finally recognized it for what it was, he didn’t think about fighting it anymore. He just let himself sink into it and be lead by it much the same way he’d let himself be led for most of his life by his friend Denise.
For, you see, most of his life Dave thought he was straight. Actually, he didn’t give that particular aspect of himself that much thought; all he knew he was one half of Denny and Davey from their first day in kindergarden. He always assumed that, in good time, he’d settle down and make babies with her. So when the book starts, more than a year after Denise left him, Dave is holding the baby she made with another man and still wondering the hell out of what happened and why this delicate little thing isn’t his.
It’s the same day on which he meets Nicolas, or rather the day on which Nicholas blunders into his life–literally, as when Dave sees him for the first time, Nicholas is smiling at him upside down from an airport floor where he ended up after tripping over his own feet.
What brought them together in the first place is the fact that Dave is a tour guide to the Australian outback and Nicholas hired him to go hunting for a mysterious blue butterfly–mysterious insofar as nobody’s really sure if this butterfly exists at all. Nicholas is English, an earl’s son (which has Denise name him an earling), he’s a quarter French and, in his own words, “incorrigibly gay”. And from the very first moment, starting with that upside-down smile at the airport, he’s as plain as can be about being attracted to Dave.
And now it’s Dave’s world that gets turned on its head, because he finds himself responding to the signals Nicholas sends his way, and how can that be? He’s a woman’s man, a one-woman-man to be precise, everybody knows that, so why is he cataloguing the one-thousand-and-one different ways in which Nicholas smiles, why did he match the color of the Akubra hat he bought for Nicholas to the man’s eyes, and why would he break his firmest rules for him?
As they slowly approach Nicholas’s improbable goal, their relationship changes, shifts, evolves as naturally and inevitably as a caterpillar becomes pupa becomes butterfly. But a butterfly’s lifespan is short. What will happen when Nicholas returns to England?
This book was enchanting, with finely drawn, adorable characters and a delicate, tender love story that was to die for. Even the slightly sappy ending had a beauty of its own; it was a secretly shameful pleasure to read, like a brush of Bob Ross on a Leonardo, and I just savored it, whipped cream, candied cherry and all.
The characters are the backbone to this story. Both Dave and Nicholas were lonely souls (though otherwise fully capable of looking after themselves). The increasingly intense emotions between them never took away from their dignity or their masculinity. The supporting cast, Denise and Charlie and the other people they encountered during their quest were sometimes only sketched with a few strokes of the pen, but recognizable personalities in their own right.
However, it’s in equal parts the setting that makes this tale so special. As I said above, this is a quiet read, unspectacular and timeless, though nothing less than boring, just like the landscape in which it is set. In fact, it is almost as if the land was a character in and of itself, and it lends this book a solid reality as well as a hint of magic with the mystery that is the Dreamtime, interwoven strong and palpable with the storyline in a respectful and unobtrusive way.
But the greatest lure of this book lay in the writing itself, which was exquisite. There was easy, smooth narrative and sparkling, lively dialogue, both laced with just the right dose of humor and tongue-in-cheek, and then, without warning, we stumble upon little gems of prose like this:
“… [Nicholas] sat there, offering a dazed smile to Dave, and said,”I just looked up.”
“Oh yes.The sky.”
“It’s rather larger than the one we have at home.”
Dave put his head back and looked up. There wasn’t a cloud to interrupt the enormous arc of pure blue, which if you didn’t –scarily–let into your soul, would indeed make anyone feel insignificant. Dave huffed a breath.
“You matter to me. If not to the sky.”
Passages like this made me sigh in contentment and longing, and, to quote the friend who recommended this to me, I went to bed hugging my reader, dreaming of acacia scrub and falling up into endless skies, and of adorably shy Australian outback guides and English earlings.
I’ve read this book in one go, I’ve reread it, and I’m likely to read it many times over. But in the end, what it comes down to it is what most anybody I know contented themselves with saying after reading it, as trite as it is, since just no other words seem appropriate:
What a beautiful story.
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