Cover Image: The Butterfly Lampshade

The Butterfly Lampshade

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Member Reviews

This is an extraordinary novel, and not just because it’s a story of survival.  Bender’s prose is, of course, sublime. The atmosphere she creates has an ethereal, almost mystical quality. And the narrative — swollen with metaphor and symbolism — pulsates with hidden portent.

The story is that of Francie, a young woman in her mid-twenties, still trying to find her place in the world. Separated from her mentally ill mother at the age of eight, Francie has been raised in the loving home of her aunt and uncle. But the trauma of her childhood has stayed with her. She feels untethered, weighed down by snatches of memories that have no connection to reality. 

Fearing for her own mental health, Francie decides to confront her memories, to make sense of them and find a way to release herself from their hold.  

I confess to being lost for much of this novel. Francie’s voice is disorienting but strangely captivating, like wading through treacle or fumbling through fog, yet pushing on because you know that something vital is there just out of your grasp.

But there is a moment towards the end (if you’ve read it, you’ll know), which is blinding in its beauty; when everything falls into place, and you are rewarded for your perseverance. It is profoundly moving, utterly joyous, and (almost) worth the long wait. 

There are some books that cannot be fully appreciated until finished, and even then only after a period of reflection. This is one of them, and the more I reflect, the more I come to admire Bender’s art. I just wish I didn’t have to work so hard for the pleasure!
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My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.  I gave this a 4 stars or 8/10.

I started reading this story back in July, 20 I had to put it to one side for various reasons at the time.  I made a complete restart of it in March, 21 as I'd forgotten most of what I'd read of the 100 pages.  This was an unusual read in some ways, as it explores the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Every relationship between a mother and her children is different, none of us go through the same thing with our parents, we all experience similar things but in very different ways.  

Francie's relationship with her mother is an unusual one, her mother has mental health problems that lead to her being taken into a mental hospital.  As Francie ends up being cared for by other relatives, her life isn't the same due to not having that true relationship with her mother that she would have had, had she been with her mother.  Whilst waiting to be collected by her relative Francie spends a little time with a babysitter, during that time she spies a Butterfly Lampshade that has far reaching and long lasting influences over her.  Butterflies are delicate creatures and like the Butterfly our mental health is every bit as delicate, as we discover during the story of Francie and her delicate relationship with her mother.  How her mother's mental health may also impact on Francie in the future, if the problem runs in the family rather than being just a problem for her mother alone.  

Told in short chapters, this story soon has you hooked and wanting to find out more.  Short chapters are definitely a very addictive way of telling a story.  This was a well written and thought provoking in many ways story.  I will be reading more books by this Author in due course.  This would make a great reading group read in my opinion.
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Gah- a book that kept me HOOKED!! I wasn’t sure about this one but really enjoyed it and could not put it down at all. Everyone should check this out!
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Mysterious and moving.
Aimee Bender, original and insightful. Francie's  Mother suffers from psychotic episodes, her behaviour towards Francie is unpredictable and frightening. After her Mother is hospitalized, Francie goes to live with her Aunt, Uncle and baby cousin, she avoids thinking about the past, until 20 years later when she finds a surreal way to finally confront her memories.
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Where to start with this book? I am a long term fan of Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has been a favourite for many years. So needless to say, I was beyond pleased when I was granted an ARC for her long awaited new novel. 
The Butterfly Lampshade is stunning, and I think that I will need to go back and re-read her other novels with a fresh pair of eyes and try her short stories (of which there are many). 

Aimee's use of mystical realism in this tale that studies the mind and our mental wellbeing is exquisite. I was submerged totally in Francie's story, so immersed that it almost felt physical. The affect that her writing had on me, mirrored the details of the book; the thought that what she described was possible, tangible is testament to the skill of Aimee's writing.

Francie's mother has suffered from mental illness all her life. At the age of 8, Francie goes to live with her Aunt when her mother is institutionalised, after a particular psychotic episode.. This book is the story of the few weeks surrounding that time, as remembered by adult Francie. Told gradually, over a number of years, as Francie puts together her memories, her thoughts and her feelings of that time.
How it has influenced the person that she is, how she thinks, how she lives her life and her fears of being the same.

Butterfly Lampshade focuses on the affect that mental illness has on those closest to the sufferer, it portrays the impact that it could have on a child. It shows the power of memory; the journey of letting your memories emerge and allowing yourself to fully process them, giving yourself time to heal and permission to move on.

Don't come to this book looking for plot, there isn't one really - the level of detail slows the pace to almost a stop, allowing you to totally absorb the narrative, to be consumed by it. By the final chapters, you feel that you are part of Francie's world and what she remembers is all perfectly reasonable and believable.

Thank you #netgalley this was amazing!
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The Butterfly Lampshade is the third novel by NYT best-selling American author, Aimee Bender. Francie is just eight years old when her mother Elaine has a psychotic episode that lands her in hospital. Even at this tender age, Francie is ever-vigilant for the tiny changes that indicate a deterioration in her mother’s condition and suggest the use of the lock on her bedroom door. Not that Elaine has ever hurt her…

This time, though, it’s clear that the situation will be longer term, and Aunt Minnie, nine months pregnant, sends Uncle Stan to Portland to collect Francie and bring her to Burbank. Because Francie won’t get on a plane, her care is transferred (like a baton) from Stan (urgently flying back for the imminent birth) to Shrina (her babysitter) to Stan’s second cousin (for the train trip) to Stan at the other end. At the house she meets Aunt Minnie and her new cousin, Vicky.

Now almost twenty years older, and still carrying memories of that time, Francie feels the need to withdraw socially from almost everyone, to properly examine exactly what happened during this upheaval in her life. Because it was a strange few days, and it began at the babysitter’s with a butterfly lampshade, from which one of the insects materialised, floated in a water glass and was drunk down. A beetle that escaped a page, a besuited pair on a train and roses that fell from a curtain: these all need to be examined. 

Up to now, Francie “could feel the memories there, wanting my attention, but I did not know what to do with them”, they “came to me in parts, in fragments and pieces, tugging at the corners of my thinking like a half-captured dream”. Her cousin talks of “sticky memories” and Francie enlists her help to create a place where she can concentrate her thoughts on remembering: “I liked the idea of giving the memories a place to emerge, like they had an inherent gaseous nature, and the tent would prevent them from floating away.” Remember she does, in intricate detail. What effect will it have on her?

What a magical story Bender has created! The narrative jumps back and forth to different times of Francie’s life, yet is easy to follow. Eight-year-old Francie is a wonderful character: clever, sensitive and insightful, with a pragmatism that guides her in protecting herself and those for whom she cares. These characters are easy to invest in, to care about. There’s a tinge of paranormal that adds to the fascination. 

Bender has a marvellous turn of phrase: “my thought returned to its track, a train lining up synaptically that I could now get on and ride” and “Who would handle my mother’s clothes and perfumes? It was all spread in bits, like the trash we had left in Salinas, this life rubble” are examples. This is a brilliant read!
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Random House UK.
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Here, Aimee Bender tackles one of the most difficult and fraught sujects in the modern world, that of mental illness. With its Lyrical prose and alternation between past and present, the book vividly narrates how a young woman struggles to make sense of past trumatic events.

The removal of her mother to a mental hospital, the staying overnight with her babysitter and the subsequent train journey to Southern California have left an indeliable mark on Francie.

Entangled with these past memories, are others, one related to the book's title, that Francie is ever trying to make sense of. They repeat over and over again in her mind like a never ending loop. 

Now twenty years later, Francie will attempt to finally try to come to terms with her past and to examine and dertermine if certain pivitol memeories were real or imagined.

A painful and heartbreaking read, where the cumulative effect of the retelling of past events is to aptly convey the agony, bewiderment and hurt which is at the heart of the book.

Not too be honest the lightest and easiest of reads but certainly very powerful.
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When I first read the premise of this book, I didn't fully understand what this book was about.  What I did know was that it sounded intriguing and had a heavy mental health slant, and that was enough to pull me in.

This is the story of Francie, who is 8 years old when her mother has a psychotic break so severe that she ends up hospitalised long term.  As she sleeps at the babysitter's house, while arrangements are made for her to live with her aunt and uncle across the country, she admires the lamp beside her.  It is decorated with a pattern of butterflies.  When she wakes in the morning, a real butterfly - which looks just like the ones on the lampshade - floats dead in her water glass.  During her childhood, a couple of other instances of the illustrated becoming real, tangible but dead objects occur.  As a young woman, Francie finds herself dwelling on these instances, as well as her mother's ongoing mental health hospitalisation and how it has impacted her.  She withdraws from life, and we join her as she tries to make sense of her own state of mind.

This book is strange journey into Francie's perception of reality, and the generational impact of mental health issues.  There is a lot of sadness in this book, both in the mother-daughter relationship and in the shadow that her earlier experiences cast over Francie's life.  But neither Francie nor the book does this in a way that points the finger of blame at her mother, who had as little choice in how things developed as yer young daughter did.  Instead, there is a strong sense of love and the importance of community in protecting and supporting those impacted by mental illness.  

I thought it was such a powerful read, though much as I struggled to understand the premise before I read it I'm also struggling to articulate why I found this book so beautiful, hopeful and raw.  I think this may need a reread at some point for me to pull my thoughts together.  And I hardly ever reread, so I think that says how much of a mark this book made!
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Sadly this book was a real let-down. I was super excited at the premise of it but the writing did not deliver. I found it slow and cumbersome and not cohesive. The length of some paragraphs with no punctuation was just crazy! Then it was choppy in other places. This made for a very difficult flow of concentration. I think this author was let down with some editing required. 

Overall this was just not enjoyable and not a book I'd recommend comfortably. I don't seem to be alone in my views of this book. Hopefully this author will write another and take on board reader feedback. Only 2 stars from me unfortunately. 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my copy. All reviews are my own and totally unbiased.
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I received an ARC of this book via netgalley. Francie's mother has what sounds like bipolar disease or perhaps schizophrenia. her condition is so bad that Francie has to go and live with her Aunt and Uncle who have just had a baby. This is really the whole of the understandable narrative as far as I was concerned. Like in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Bender's narrative twists and turns and returns and returns to a series of incidents around this time and in the ensuing course of Elaine's illness. TBH I kept thinking Francie was going to be diagnosed with mental illness too but no she seemed to just be allowed to keep on doing strange things like having herself locked into her room at night or putting herself into a remembrance tent on the balcony of her apartment.

If there was a deeper meaning to this it just got lost in the intricacies of the repetition
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A complex exploration of a child damaged by her mother's mental illness, but finding a way to grow and thrive. The child's eye view is used very well here, and the impact into adulthood of adverse childhood events is developed sympathetically and intelligently. It's also a strangely beautiful read.
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I'm afraid that The Butterfly Lampshade isn't my kind of read. The writing style is a wee bit too purply and the choppy quality of the story is also rather off-putting.
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Francie is left with her babysitter after her mother’s psychotic episode. This is how the book starts. This is a very close look on a family that deals with a family member having a serious mental health disorder. We see the world through Francie’s viewpoint, however the effects on the rest of the family can be seen as well. 
Francie loves her mother and as she is ill she is taken away and needs to move in with her aunt. She suffers from trauma of seeing her mother being unwell, but also from being taken away. As an adult she thinks back how this affected her and is doubting in her own mental wellbeing. I think Bender handles this particular part very well. Of course it was very difficult to read this and I felt incredibly sad for Francie, still it was a story of finding herself and beautiful family ties. I have not read many books on psychosis or schizophrenia, but I think it is an important read. There is no major plot, however reading about Francie and her journey through self-discovery was beautiful.
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The Butterfly Lampshade is about a mother with a mental illness, psychosis, and a daughter trying to decipher her past and work through her present. We begin by seeing the extent of Francie’s mother illness and the facts of what happened next. However as we get further into the story Francie recalls these memories and gives them more details and context.

I’m going to be honest from the start, this wasn’t a book for me. It was more of an introspective study of a mind experiencing psychoses than a story. It was told from the perspective of the protagonist, Francie, mainly through her internal voice which only added to that inside perspective. There were whole passages of internal monologue that were so long it became boring and dry. Despite Francie searching for answers, to remember and understand, there just didn’t seem to be much happening. It’s definitely a very subtle approach which maybe had a beauty to it that I missed.

The pacing was also pretty slow with lots of overlapping and repeating which, in my opinion, was totally unnecessary. If you enjoy a book that meanders then you’ll probably enjoy this, but I prefer stories with a bit more going on. I just found myself becoming a bit frustrated which made it harder to relate to Francie even though I desperately wanted to.

As with a previous book of Bender’s, I felt the premise was really good and held so much potential, but it just didn’t quite play out as I’d expected. So don’t let me put you off if you think you’ll enjoy – maybe it’ll play out well for you. It was a pretty quick book to read so if you’re wanting to give it a chance I found it easy to get through.

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the opportunity to read this ARC.
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This book had an interesting premise and while I enjoyed the beginning a lot, I found it difficult to stay interested throughout. It just didn't work for me.
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I've enjoyed Bender's writing in the past (The Color Master: Stories) and requested a copy of this on the strength of that. So it's a shame that this never really lives up to the promise in the blurb, and instead is a pedestrian and meandering pseudo examination of the impact of mental illness on one family. It's not often when reading that I find myself confused, but not insignificant chunks of this book focus on things which do not seem to further the plot. I tried to like this, but ultimately the story and its characters failed to win me over.
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A sometimes unsettling read, Aimee Bender has an usual power to convey the thoughts and feelings of a child that can't help but cause you to be retrospective about the child you yourself once were and to consider hard what elements of that child remain within you still.  This is a compelling, literary exploration of mental illness and it's effects told with challenge and grace.
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I enjoyed reading this book to a certain degree, I like Aimee Benders writing a lot. At times though I struggled to stay interested. In my opinion this book is not as good as her previous work.
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This is a very interesting read. I have enjoyed this book and it drew me in from the start. I enjoyed the pov how it reads and you feel you are in their head. Its a very refreshing approach to reading
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I hadn't read Aimee Bender's previous novels despite hearing much praise about her work, so this is me now joining the chorus of praise wholeheartedly! I found The Butterfly Lampshade an engrossing read from the very first to the very last page. My heart went out to Francie, both the child and the adult, and her entrancing, strange way of seeing the world. Aimee Bender's use of dialogues is nothing short of masterful when it comes to conveying her characters' feelings through what is said, how it is said and by who, as well as what remains unsaid. Mental illness, specifically Francie's mother's bipolar disorder and Francie's own resulting OCD-like tendencies, is treated here in a subtle, intimate manner, making the novel a powerful portrayal of what the inner life of women affected by this type of conditions might look like to an outside observer. As heavy as the subject may sound, there are some nice touches of surreal humour, and the beautiful, sisterly relationship between Francie and her younger cousin Vicky does much to lighten the mood. Highly recommended!
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