Fiction Books’ Review of The Englishman

Fiction Books | Review of The Englishman and the Butterfly by Ryan Asmussen, June 4, 2013


“The quality of the person will determine the quality of the happiness.”

“Whatever you see around you, whatever holds and loves you, is who you truly are.”

From the very first sentence of this debut novel, I was captivated by the skilled visual and descriptive use of language, which brought the characters to life and lifted them from the pages of the book, to enact the story before me. The dialogue, with its classical overtones, was clever, detailed and almost artistic in its ability and power to take me right into the heart and being of the individual characters and almost to their very souls, a profoundly touching and emotional journey.

My journey took me through the many and varied landscapes of both the physical and psychological complexities of this disparate and eccentric cast of characters, forced together purely by their shared love of the written word, as their lives become inexorably intertwined, in the clever, deadly, richly crafted and multi-layered story, which Ryan has set for them.

Each of them has ‘baggage’ which they carry with them from their early lives and which will influence their futures, as they are drawn individually and collectively into the morass of academia, three Englishmen and their American ‘butterfly’.

Without giving away too much of the story, the scene is set for a hauntingly lyrical and enchantingly romantic ‘pas de deux’, which quickly incorporates the rivalry associated with a ‘menage a trois’. This strained triangle of uncertain loyalties then becomes squared in the most dark and disturbing way. Something has to give and so it does, in a series of the most tragic, emotional and disturbing events, which all lead the reader to beg the question, ‘in reality, how much influence and control do we, as individuals, actually have over our own destinies?’

This is the one question, which appears to force our main protagonist, Henry Fell, out of his insular and insecure world of panic attacks, self doubt and ingrained parental influences, propelling him into becoming a more confident, self-fulfilled individual, when he realises that the meaning and understanding of life, which he has been so assiduously seeking and worrying himself over, is, after all, as illusive as the butterfly.

But does this transformation actually make Henry a better person, as he appears to blossom and flourish, as those he is closest to at this time in his life, wither and perish. He doesn’t seem fazed or concerned at the brutal demise of his compatriots, or indeed of the woman who opened his mind and heart to the possibilities that life may have to offer him.

So, who or what is the true butterfly … The woman who touches all their lives, sucks them dry like taking nectar from a flower, then moves on to the next unsuspecting victim, …  Henry, as he uses those around him, to help him discover his true worth and self, without thought or conscience for the consequences his actions … Or is life itself this creature with two faces, one minute so surreal and peaceful, only to turn in the blink of an eye, into a creature of destruction and sadness.

A truly amazing debut novel, from a gifted poet and academic, this review was one of the most difficult I have had to write and I almost feel that I need to go back and read the book again, in order to do it full justice, particularly the time which Henry spent alone in the cabin in the woods, as I feel that I might have missed so many of the slight inferences and nuances, which Ryan intended me, as the reader, to recognise.

On the other hand, I truly enjoyed ‘The Englishman And The Butterfly’, as both a great story and an excellent piece of descriptive, creative prose, which held me captive from beginning to end.

So what more can either reader or author ask for?

What are your thoughts about the question raised in the book …

‘In reality, how much influence and control do we, as individuals, actually have over our own destinies?’ …. 

I guess that if I were being totally and brutally honest, then I would have to accept full responsibility for shaping and influencing my own destiny, although of course it is always much easier and certainly more convenient, to hold somebody else responsible