Butterfly by John Delacourt

At the heart of John Delacourt’s Butterfly is a simple enough story: blackmail and robbery gone very wrong with the principle characters fleeing the law as well as each other. However, I have come to expect an elevated raison d’etre from any book published by Montreal’s Linda Leith Publications, and Butterfly certainly upholds (if not exceeds) those expectations. There is a lot more here than the crimes of blackmail and robbery. There is murder, art forgeries, and, most horrifically, war crimes, specifically those of the Bosnian War.

The principal antagonist is Nataša Ruzic, a young woman from Sarajevo whom we first meet attending ESL classes in Toronto. The instructor is Lucien Bollinger, a 30-ish man who has returned to Canada after a failed relationship with a Japanese woman. The two are attracted to each other, and Nataša soon introduces him to the art world, specifically that of Alex Rebane, a painter who was once darling of the art world, but addiction issues brought about his eventual falling out of favour. Now, he is in Toronto trying to revive his career. Lucien is the besotted outsider amongst Nataša, Alex and a man called Petar Stepanovic all of whom seem to know each other quite well. Without getting into spoiler territory, there exists some incriminating videotape of Petar and another man, Dejan Vidic as soldiers in the Bosnian War leading a group of men off to be executed. As Nataša watches the videotape, she tells the reader: “There are other soldiers, spread out along the line of men, but they are not in focus. They will never have names, never fear discovery. But for those that do have names, I want to ensure a reckoning.” Yes, Nataša knows the names of some of the soldiers as well as one of the victims: her father.

The astonishing thing about Butterfly is the way Mr. Delacourt has chosen to tell the story. For this is not Nataša’s story, or Lucien’s or Petar’s. It is all their story, for each chapter alternates amongst them as well as other characters. In this way, each character gets to defend his or her own actions and feelings (in the first person) towards the others. Like a composer, Mr. Delacourt has written all the parts, and it works wonderfully, turning a story of a botched robbery into a nightmare of consequences for those on both sides of the law, and poor Lucien who is innocently trapped in the middle. Recommended as an exceptional literary crime-suspense novel.

I am putting Butterfly on the 2020 long list for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Best Fiction category.

Some favourite lines:

Lucien

“It was rare that I could finish a book; books I was told were great either bored the hell out of me or struck me as so sentimental and manipulative that I wanted to throw them across the room.”

“With Nataša I was finally living in the present and not the past, finally thinking of a future that made me hopeful.”

Nataša

“If spending time in this country has given me anything, it has taught me when it’s time to leave.”

“All I can hope for is that no one in my world will suffer for my fatal mistake. I believed I could find some justice, find a way to make a new start in my life. I thought I could emerge a whole new being.”

Alex Rebane

“But now, what’s going on within her [Nataša] has reduced what was in potentia, and to paint her is to fix her, pinned like a butterfly. And I don’t care for lepidoptery.”

“I much enjoyed the razor-sharp writing, the intellectual fabric of the book, the first-person ruminations of each of the main characters, and the spiralling plot…the details throughout the book are a joy. BUTTERFLY is beautiful.” — Denis Coupal, author of Blindshot.

Butterfly by John Delacourt
Linda Leith Publishing

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