Books

Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Butterflies in November

by Audur Ava Olafsdottir

An enchanting novel about a woman who stumbles into a sudden change of fortune and embarks on an offbeat road trip to escape the questions that have long haunted her—and finds answers in the unlikeliest places.

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 296
  • Publication Date December 09, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2318-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00
  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Publication Date December 09, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9230-1
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

After a day of being dumped–twice–and accidentally killing a goose, a young woman yearns for a tropical vacation far from the chaos of her life. Instead, her plans are wrecked by her best friend’s four-year-old deaf-mute son, thrust into her reluctant care. But when the boy chooses the winning numbers for a lottery ticket, the two of them set off on a road trip across Iceland with a glove compartment stuffed full of their jackpot earnings. Along the way, they encounter black sand beaches, cucumber farms, lava fields, flocks of sheep, an Estonian choir, a falconer, a hitchhiker, and both of her exes desperate for another chance. What begins as a spontaneous adventure will unexpectedly and profoundly change the way she views her past and charts her future.

Butterflies in November is a blackly comic, charming, and uplifting tale of friends and lovers, motherhood, and self-discovery.

Tags Literary

Praise

“Anyone who’s fallen inexplicably in love with a European road-trip story will be vulnerable to this fictional journey around Iceland’s Ring Road.” —New York Magazine/Vulture.com (one of “9 Books You Need to Read”)

“This picaresque novel . . . is carried by the evocation of [Iceland’s] bleak, moody beauty.” —New Yorker

“Two very unlikely travelers take a genuinely funny and gleefully manic Icelandic road trip. . . . A fresh and zany novel . . . and at its heart, is a tragicomedy rich in pathos and humor.” —Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A beguiling road trip tale . . . an engaging and entertaining read.” —New York Journal of Books

“A bright and blissful journey into the darkest month in Iceland. Olafsdottir repeatedly smashes our idea of the everyday, only to sew it back together in a magically surprising and beautiful embroidery. A highly original and very charming novel.” —Hallgrimur Helgason, author of The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning

“I can’t remember the last time I was so enchanted by a novel like I am by Butterflies in November. Zany, surprising, full of twists and turns, it left me breathless. I just love this book.” —Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and The Obituary Writer

“Olafsdóttir has created a singular heroine in Butterflies in November: unafraid, unapologetic and also unforgettable. When she enters a lottery, she wins it. When she has sex with the wrong man, she gets back into her car and keeps on driving. I loved her and this quirky, enticing novel that never stopped surprising.” —Marcy Dermansky, author of Twins and Bad Marie

“Thoughtful and fun . . . a novel of surprising tension and tenderness.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A funny and bizarre travelog of Iceland’s unique culture and landscape . . . give in to the quirky spirit of the book.” —Library Journal

“Authentic. The story explores what freedom really means when romantic and familial bonds are pushed aside.” —Publishers Weekly

“A funny, moving, and occasionally bizarre exploration of life’s upheavals and reversals.” —Financial Times

“With subtle prose and sardonic humor Olafsdottir upends expectations.” —Carmela Ciuraru, New York Times

“Quirky and enchanting . . . a tale of resilient spirits on a journey.” —Boston Globe

“[An] evocative, humorous novel. . . . The beguiling imagery captures the fragile and fleeting beauty of those loved and lost, as well as the possibilities of self reinvention; of shedding skins, growing wings.” —Observer

“A whimsical Icelandic journey. . . . There are moving moments of sadness and hilarity . . . and Olafsdottir shows a rare ability to write a serious and convincing small child; the boy’s flowering relationship with his clueless foster-carer is beautifully handled.” —Guardian

“[A] super talented writer . . . brilliantly written . . . quirky, fun, adorable and bizarre. You’ll savor each page of this book.” —Company (one of Five Female Authors You Need to Know)

Awards

A Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times
One of the Top 50 Best Winter Reads by the Independent
Long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

Excerpt

An entire weekend is a very long time to have to spend alone with a child, a nonstop forty-eight-hour watch to be exact, under my constant responsibility. That makes at least eight meals, four of which would have to be hot, and brushing his teeth five to six times. In fact, the only way to plan this is from one half-hour to the next. Children’s games last for about five minutes, after which you’ve already got to think of something new. It must slow everything down; one would have to put everything else on hold, I imagine.

Gnome House certainly lives up to its name; its low multicolored wooden structure, wedged between higher buildings, seems oddly incongruous in this district. Inside everything has been dwarfed down to scale in a nannified universe. As you step in, you turn into a Gulliver in Lilliput and have to watch you don’t tread on any of the small folk that live their minuscule lives here from eight to five, five days a week.

I spot him immediately.

He stands out in the crowd, with his unusually big head for such a short trunk, slightly drooping shoulder blades and a rather old-fashioned hearing aid for such a young child. His big ears protrude through his hair. His mother had told me he wants to keep his hair long, to cover those ears. Having been premature by two and a half months, he is considerably smaller than his peers. His torso also seems oddly proportioned, an old man locked in the body of a child.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide by Lindsey Tate

1. “Nothing is as it should be” (p. 12). So says the nameless narrator of Butterflies in November as she sets off on her road trip around the coast of Iceland. She is referring to the unseasonal weather, but could be alluding to many aspects of her life. Begin your discussion of the novel by talking about some of the other possible interpretations of this statement. Consider the importance in the narrative of the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the inner journey of self-discovery versus the physical journey of a road trip.

2. “Reality is in a state of perpetual flux” (p. 13). Discuss the sense of change and uncertainty that pervades the novel, as people’s lives are altered in a moment and sent on a different trajectory. Find examples in the narrator’s life and talk about the ways they play out throughout the plot.

3. Set against the almost surreal Icelandic landscape of glaciers, deserts, and lava fields, consider the atmosphere’s effect on both the reader and the characters, especially the narrator. Is Iceland itself a character in the novel? How does it effect physical and emotional change on the characters’ lives?

4. The narrator’s lifestyle changes suddenly in the opening pages of the novel as she loses lover, husband, and home in quick succession. How does she handle her new situation? Examine the facets of her personality that are revealed by her husband and lover. Consider your reaction to those traits. What are some possible reasons that the author chose to leave the narrator nameless?

5. “A relationship to me is all about the right body and the right smell, the home is a shell for the body, not a place for exchanging existential views and having discussions” (p. 51). Consider whether or not it’s possible to maintain a relationship with such a perspective. Do the narrator’s past and future relationships hold true to this viewpoint? Discuss whether or not you think she adheres to this opinion at the end of the novel.

6. “Despite my mastery of many languages, I’ve never been particularly apt with words, at least not eye to eye, woman to man” (p. 64). Find examples of how miscommunication impacts her daily life.

7. The novel has a sense of madcap adventure that matches the quirkiness of the narrator’s character. Consider how humor either highlights or downplays serious moments, whether of sadness or reflection. Do you think it is possible to translate humor from one culture to another, from one language to another?

8. A road trip as plot device usually launches a character on the path to self-discovery. Is this narrator consciously in search of a new life, or is she more focused on running away from her old life? Both? Neither?

9. Discuss the symbolic meaning of butterflies throughout the novel. Is it a fitting metaphor?

10. Return to the conversation about language and miscommunication. Chart the ways in which Tumi and the narrator communicate with each other, and examine the evolution of their understanding one another.

11. The protagonist travels through rain and fog and floods, constantly at the mercy of the elements. How does weather affect both the reality and the surreal quality of her journey?

12. Tumi’s mother, Audur, staunchly supports the narrator as her marriage fails, and entrusts her with Tumi when incapacitated. Identify the various contributions Audur makes to the plot’s progression.

13. The narrator attracts male attention wherever she goes, even while traveling with a young child. What do men see in her? Discuss her need for freedom in contrast to the needs of the various men who disappear and reappear, unwilling to really let her go. What does the author convey about male and female needs and desires?

14. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator states, “I wasn’t made to be a mother, to bring up new humans. . . . The sight of a small child doesn’t trigger a wave of soft maternal feelings in me” (p. 33). Discuss the development of her relationship with Tumi and the ways that she begins to change with Tumi in her charge. Does the narrator live up to the comment, “Being a mother is about waking up and doing one’s best and then going to bed again and hoping for the best” (p. 102)?

15. Told in brief italicized flashbacks, the narrator’s childhood remains veiled and enigmatic. Examine her adulthood in light of what happened to her as a teenager at her grandmother’s house. In what ways did these brief insights into her past cause you to empathize with her? Did you want more or less insight into her past?

16. The narrator stands high above the ocean, about to bungee-jump into the void below. Discuss the darkly humorous epiphany she undergoes before leaping (p. 229), leading her to think, “I could barely be happier because I am beginning to know who I am, I am beginning to be someone else, beginning to be me.”

17. Chart the narrator’s developmental arc as she completes her journey, reaching the village where she spent the summers of her youth. Consider her relationships with men, including her ex-husband, and her relationship with Tumi. Has she come to terms with her past? What do you think the future holds for her?

18. The author includes forty-seven recipes and one knitting recipe in the final chapter. Discuss how this humorous addendum affected your overall impression upon concluding the book.

Suggestions for Further Reading:

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson; Doppler by Erlend Loe; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce; The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai; Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet