Horace Winter, newly retired, finds his life crystallized by a brain-tumor diagnosis in Irish writer Bowman’s (The Redemption of George Baxter Henry, 2011, etc.) fourth novel.
Horace had worked a lifetime at Dublin’s Leinster Bank, Ormond Quay branch, never realizing his career had been unfairly stymied by the most prosaic of circumstance. Soon after retirement, Horace begins forgetting words and having other lapses. Then comes the critical diagnosis. A woman named Amanda appears when Horace collapses by his front gate one day, helping him into the house. Her consistent acts of empathy and kindness and her gentle prodding make her the true friend Horace never had in his life, but their relationship is also subtly, companionably a courtship dance. As he approaches the end of his life, Horace’s memories ramble: a moment of immaturity when he was 6 that fractured his family forever; an episode of whimsical childish cruelty that later cost him a chance to become a hometown sports hero; the early loss of his beloved father and curiosity about his father’s gutting D-Day invasion experience; and, constantly, his twisted Freudian relationship with his angry, resentful mother. Throughout, and rooted in a love for lepidoptery shared with his father, Horace classifies people as either butterflies or moths—"butterflies as 'good' and moths as 'bad.' " Bowman has a keen sense of literary details—"The corridors had about them an odour of disinfectant and kindness"—and his allusions to the winged insects are threaded through the story in a meaningful way. In fact, as the end approaches, Horace himself, more atheist than believer, more circumspect than hedonist, flits about like the most elusive butterfly.
A melancholy yet gently optimistic novel built around a subtly ironic reconciliation of existentialism with the butterfly effect.