What happens when everything you have is not enough?
Restless property developer, Peter Calliet, meets Natalie, a sullen young artist at a party and an obsession begins that has echoes of his troubled past. Peter has everything in terms of material success and security. The obligatory fast car, lucrative contracts with his powerfully connected father's property empire and a plush renovated flat. Devoted fiancée, Claudia, expects to move in and marriage is imminent. But Peter has a dark past that taints his movements. Starting an affair with Natalie, who has an equally disturbed background, can only lead to more heartache. If Claudia discovers that Peter has been seeing Natalie, her dream world will be destroyed, adding to his burden of guilt. But even that can't stop him. The secure and rewarding life he has worked so hard to achieve begins to unravel.
Peter has everything going for him: a loving woman by his side, a daughter, friends, family, a lucrative job with plenty of opportunity, and a great home. Yet he's not happy. He's not satisfied. A chance meeting with dark and troubled Natalie intrigues Peter to the point that he places everything on the line to have her. How long can he keep up the ruse from those around him and continue juggling all of the balls in the air before it all comes crashing down?
The story opens with the early stages of Peter's current rehab job, the constant upheaval of keeping work on track, making sure everyone shows up on-site, and keeping the neighbors happy while their quiet corner of life is torn up, dust flies, and mud gets tracked up and down sidewalks and driveways. Throughout the story we follow the home rehab - and the mess there is pretty much indicative of Peter's personal life. He's not only trying to keep the current neighborhood inhabitants happy amid the chaos, but he's also trying to keep Claudia, his fiance, happy while she's trying to sell her own home, move in with Peter, and plan their wedding. Then there's that pesky trip to Spain his mother is planning, the soon-to-be homeless friend hanging on, the enormous project his aging father wants to hand off to him, the teenaged daughter who only wants to see him when she needs money - you get the idea. Not counting the past that refuses to stay buried.
Initially, you almost feel tender feelings toward Peter as everything threatens to fall in around him. But then very soon you begin to notice something twisted in the way Peter views the world and those around him - particularly in his view of women. It's a constant sizing up of the assets and flaws Peter sees in every woman's body, from the curve of their hips and the circumference of their waist to the amplitude (or lack thereof) of their breasts. From watching Claudia's pear shaped hips as she descends the attic space and comparing them to Natalie's more acceptable proportions (though Claudia's chest makes up for what Natalie's lacks) to checking out the bartender at the local watering-hole and the nurse at the hospital while visiting his father, Peter's obsessive cold, and calculating nature soon becomes apparent.
Plus there's that little eighteen-year-old he keeps stringing along on the side for when he needs to blow off a little steam.
Peter rapidly devolves into a character who is his own worst enemy - and he loves to blame his poor choices and cold attitude on everyone else. Even while he is sleeping with his fiance, his little eighteen-year-old throw away, and then adds the mysterious Natalie to the mix, he sees virtually nothing wrong with it all and finds some way to blame others. Claudia is too clingy. Zoe is too flighty. Natalie is too needy. His family too oppressive. But he can't willingly give any of them up.
The Butterfly Collector is a study into the mind of the psychopathic soul. Peter is cold, emotionless, and has no sympathy for anyone but himself. His narcissistic attitude is particularly telling when Claudia is in the midst of confronting him, and Peter simply doesn't care that he's broken her heart because he's too busy continuing to check out and make judgements on the other women in the bar. The calculating only involves how far Peter can take things before getting caught and then how much his next payout will be when he finishes the latest project. Even when he's with Natalie and she's suffering from a terrible headache, Peter continues to harass and belittle this object of his current worship, offering no concern for the fact that she is unwell. It's creepy. It's frustrating. Being in Peter's mind is enough to make one's skin crawl.
While reading, I could only take so much before I had to put it down for the night. The story has virtually no action. There's no mystery. There's little that actually takes place. Peter's past trauma even stays so far out on the periphery we never know exactly what happened (though there's enough to infer certain aspects). Everything that occurs is within Peter's point-of-view and mundane existence. We feel his malaise. We see his boredom. This story is primarily a peek into the twisted mind, which is what kept me coming back every few days.
I have to admit, it wasn't the writing. The severe overuse of pronouns made me put the story down many times in frustration. Even in settings where there were multiple men and women on the stage, we're still subjected to so many he's and she's that trying to understand which he and she was an exercise in futility. There was even a time in the first five or six chapters when I had to go back to the beginning to figure out the main character's name again - because he kept constantly referring to himself as 'he'.
Pronoun overuse also contributed to the extremely passive tone. At times it meandered so that I questioned the necessity of particular scenes to the overall story. Movements and motivations didn't have much flow or cohesion at times. One moment Peter's all alone at his house and then next he's at a bar waiting for friends with no scene break or simple sentence to lead into a spatial change. These rather sudden jumps in time and space were jarring and at times quite off-putting.
Content warning - the novel contains multiple moments of infidelity, psychologically troubling content that could further traumatize an abused soul, and is heavy on the strong profanity. Definitely not for those under eighteen.
The Butterfly Collector was at times difficult to continue reading. However, the fact that I kept coming back to the story to find out whether or not Peter would get his comeuppance causes me to ponder anew a higher rating than the overall quality of the writing suggests. I'll tread lightly on three and a half stars.
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Adam Dickson was a student of Bill Stanton's Writer's Tutorial for several years, learning the craft of writing
A lifetime fitness enthusiast, Adam suffered two massive brain seizures in 2003 and was left permanently disabled. In spite of this setback, he took up triathlon and began entering races, competing in Ironman UK in 2007. He co-authored Triathlon - Serious About Your Sport which was published by New Holland in May 2012. Two more titles on Swimming and Cycling were published in March 2013.
Adam has also written a book on mental health, Surfing the Edge - a survivors guide to bipolar disorder, which will be completed in Autumn 2014.
Connect with him at www.adamdickson.co.uk