Perdita. By Hilary Scharper
Publisher Sourcebooks Landmark (January 20, 2015)
(2013 by Canadian Touchstone)
Genre: historical, literature, gothic, eco gothic, paranormal, mystery, romance, nature and art themes, Canadian sensibilities.
She is a Canadian author, (Phd Yale, Assoc Prof Cultural Anthropology, Univ Toronto). Scharper with her husband also spent a decade as a Bruce Peninsula assistant lighthouse keeper, later stewards for the Cabot Head Light House and Bird Observatory.
This is her debut novel, very much a product of her love of nature (she describes her fiction as Eco gothic, a new literary genre building on traditional 19th century gothic, with the landscape as an active, central character). As a scientist myself I am thrilled with this new genre, as society as a whole should create a sustainable respectful relationship with nature. In our anthropogenic centric society we need to become more aware and familiar with nature but still are over consumers.
How many of you remember the Greek myth of Perdita (“lost one”)?
Or Shakespeare’s Winter Tale?
Or Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmatians? (Pongo’s mate)?
I was absolutely enthralled with this tale: it is beautifully written, has well paced parallel stories of the present day and late 1800s through journal entries and letters and has a complex message.
Well developed characters include:
1. Marged Brice, 134 year old, who has outlived her time, but needs to pass on Perdita.
Also called dark eyed junco. She gives her diaries (from 1897) to Garth to convince him of her story, and they become a fascinating time capsule. And so much more.
2.Tad or Hugh Brice (Welsh for Dad) who was a light keeper at Cape Prius, Georgia Bay for 30 years, father to Marged.
3. George Stewart, acknowledged by the Group of Seven, and one of Canada’s finest painters (I couldn’t find any information on him!? I love the Group of Seven (and the latter Canadian Group of painters) and would love additional Scottish connections to this region). George is the mysterious love interest to Marged, but perceptive landscape master.
4. Garth Hellyer, distinguished professor, currently working on a Longevity research project. He is asked to interview Marged, and is entrusted with her journals/diaries and letters. The reader is taken back to 1897/8 when so many things happened to Marged. Garth, a WWII historian, won the Governor General’s Award for Literature. But he’s recovering from love and loss, perhaps once burned twice shy.
5. Clare (no last name for childhood friends?!) Clare had a job as curator for British Museum, currently back to the Bay to summer and sort through her life.
This has a lovely romantic story between Clare and Garth while also untangling the mystery of Marged, Perdita, and George Stewart. Nature is a major character in this book, with evocative descriptions of bracing waters, rocky shores and all those who have gone before. There is tension between city and country life, differences between surface appearance and moral character, wild vs domesticated. There is also an element of artistic temperament, beautiful,descriptions of the process of painting, but also the character of painters. Her language is lyrical when describing nature, of wind, trees, waves and water.
I am hoping there is a sequel. Or at least a continuation of her themes. While I enjoyed the parallel stories, each could have been further detailed, delving deeper into their times. There is SO much more to the Marged story after the diaries end and when we find her in the home. I had to look up additional information on George Stewart, Tom Tomlinson, Group of Seven, Hesiod. I read this in one sitting, just delighted with the detail and coming of age story. It passed the test of second reading, looking for quotes, finding additional clues, finding myself transported to the Georgian Bay shores. I want the painting Sylvan Chapel to exist.
Historical fiction, mystery, supernatural, Canadian gothic (see Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Susanna Kearsley) as well as traditional (see Bronte, Stevenson, Doyle and Wharton).
Read if you like Kate Morton (2009) House of Riverton or Diane Setterfield (2006) The Thirteenth Tale.
Of note Scharper also has a story collection titled: Dream Dresses and God and Caesar at the Rio Grande(UMinn Press, which won the outstanding academic book award). She has several fascinating nonfiction articles as well.
What was the nickname my father had given her smile? Aurora borealis- he had always referred to Clare as his northern lights.
The secret for old age is that we should sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.
George called my eyes a Great Lakes blue.
I thought most long stories had a short version.
What would your trees say about you?
May the wind and the trees always carry your name- branch to branch, breath to breath- across my beloved Bay.
Of special note: the cover art by Amanda Kain is particularly fine and evocative.
Read as an ARC from Netgalley – thank you!
Available at the Rochester Public Library (I requested all three of my libraries to order this book, and will purchase a copy myself!)