By Hilary Scharper
January 20, 2015
$16.99 Trade Paperback
“Stunning… richly complex and unpredictable.” —Historical Novel Review
Marged Brice is 134 years old. She’d be ready to go, if it weren’t for Perdita . . .
The Georgian Bay lighthouse’s single eye keeps watch over storm and calm, and Marged grew up in its shadow, learning the language of the wind and the trees. There’s blustery beauty there, where sea and sky incite each other to mischief… or worse…
Garth Hellyer of the Longevity Project doesn’t believe Marged was a girl coming of age in the 1890s, but reading her diaries in the same wild and unpredictable location where she wrote them might be enough to cast doubt on his common sense.
Everyone knows about death. It’s life that’s much more mysterious…
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About the Author
Hilary Scharper, who lives in Toronto, spent a decade as a lighthouse keeper on the Bruce Peninsula with her husband. She also is the author of a story collection, Dream Dresses, and God and Caesar at the Rio Grande (University of Minnesota Press) which won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award. She received her Ph.D. from Yale and is currently Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Toronto.
Seven hours passed, and the waves were—Mr. Thompson said they were fifteen feet or more in front of the Lodge. The rain had not ceased, but the sky had turned an evil gray, and we heard thunder far off in the distance….
“The storm is moving fast,” said Mr. Thompson, and he shook his head glumly.
I began to pray fervently. It was but three o’clock in the afternoon, but the entire sky had turned a livid gray, and it seemed as if night had dropped upon us like a curtain falling. Now we could see lightning blaze across the horizon….
The rain came down in sheets, and the waves took on an even more ominous and angry aspect. My heart sank as I thought of the boats in that water.
Then—“There,” shouted Mr. Thompson, gesturing toward the eastern skyline.
And appearing suddenly from around the Point, we could see the outline of a large boat. Its foremast was rolling horribly—up and down, back and forth—and we could see, as it neared, that the first jib sheet was ripped to pieces. The mainsail was shredding rapidly in the wind, and the waves were pushing it toward the shore, where it would surely be smashed into pieces against the rocks. We saw the men lowering the lifeboats and then push off, desperately making for shore.
“Allan,” I cried. He had run out into the storm without warning toward the boats, and I leaped out after him.
3 signed copies of Perdita by Hilary Scharper (open December 15, 2014 – February 7, 2015)
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Interview with Perdita’s talented writer, Hilary Scharper
(1). Yes, this is a rather generic question, but I’ll try framing it in a more unique way (if that is even remotely possible). What inspired the idea for this story?
HS: Inspiration is a wonderful word, and I think there were several sources of literary inspiration for the novel. One was certainly Greek mythology. (I’ve always been fascinated by it.) I’m also very partial to Shakespeare and take great delight in how he incorporated mythological characters and meanings into his plays. I was particularly intrigued by the character of “Perdita” in his The Winter’s Tale.
Perdita means “the lost one” and, in my novel, she also represents the possibility of “being found” (and thus of “being reconciled.”) In Shakespeare’s play, Perdita is a child who is “lost” owing to the blind and cruel jealousy of her father. Yet she is also “found” through loving acts of rescue, forgiveness and ultimately self-realization. In order to lose and find “a Perdita,” then, one must first become aware of who or what is lost (including the possibility of being lost yourself).
Ulltimately this is the problem for my character, Garth Hellyer.He is a jaded professor and a longevity researcher who thinks that it is the 134-year-old and abandoned Marged Brice who is the “lost one.” Marged, however, is wisely aware that Garth is also a “lost one”—and therefore also “a Perdita” (although he doesn’t recognize this at first.) This is why Marged insists that Garth stick with the question he asks her at their first meeting: who is Perdita?
So the novel is inspired by a figure from both Greek mythology and a Shakepearean play. Perdita is a mythological character, but she is also a symbolic category inviting us to explore what is “lost”and potentially “to-be-found” in our own lives.
More about mythology and Perdita: http://perditanovel.com/mythology-and-perdita/
(2) The love for the picturesque sea of the Canadian shores, along with the lighthouse, really dredged up fond memories of the television drama series, from the early nineties Avonlea. Was this perhaps some small homage to L.M. Montgomery, or is it just nostalgic thinking on my part?
HS: A number of “Perdita” readers have made reference to the beautiful prose and evocative style of Anne of Green Gables. (In fact, one fan referred to the novel as the “love-child” of Charles Dickens and L. M. Montgomery—much to my delight!) Although Montgomery was not explicitly in my mind as I wrote the novel, I think there are certainly some parallels: for example, the characters of Anne and Marged certainly share a deep and unusual love for trees!
Needless to say, I am very pleased and humbly honored to have my work connected to Avonlea. Interestingly, both the setting for Perdita and Avonlea is a world defined by a large body of beautiful, wild and unpredictable water….
(3). Did you do any research into the interesting history of those that have lived a long time for this novel? What about longevity, long life, makes this such a recurrent theme in our legends, myths, tall tales?
I did quite a bit of research on “longevity” and became fascinated by our own cultural obession with it. Longevity and mortality are closely related, and this might partially explain why it draws so much attention. I also became intrigued by the whole “dating game” that goes on in longevity research: that is, how can age be proven? Age-related documentation (birth certificates, census data, etc.) is of fairly recent vintage and covers most of us, but there are still people around who cannot establish their age beyond a shadow of a doubt.
A few days ago, USA Today posted a wonderful story about several “still-living” persons who were born in the 1800s. All five are women and the eldest (127 years old) cannot “prove” her age. But why should she have to? She knows how old she is!
I laughed out loud when I read it, because this is exactly the dynamic that the 134-year-old Marged Brice faces in my novel….
(4). As a writer of historical fiction/drama, how do you straddle the line between being historically pure, in a sense, and creating some fictional elements to both create a story/enliven it?
HS: This is always very tricky!
Your word “straddle” is exactly right. In “Perdita” I aspire to create a convincing and well-reseached voice from “the past,” but I also want to include a compelling supernatural or paranormal element.
There’s one literary genre that unabashedly celebrates a skilfull “tumbling” of writing genres: it’s the “gothic.” (For me, it’s especially late 19th-century gothic.) Given that Nature plays such a central role in my novel (in both historical and supernatural ways), I decided to coin a new literary genre: the Eco-Gothic. It is meant to reflect the “straddle” you describe above. “Perdita” is certainly historical, but it is “enlivened” by the paranormal and reflects the gothic aesthetic of “mixing” genres. As a result—apologies in advance for a bad pun!—the results are literarily (not literally) mixed.
For more on the Eco-Gothic: http://perditanovel.com/the-eco-gothic-2/
Thank you so much for answering the above questions!! I absolutely loved the novel, and the beautiful imagery/emotions it has evoked for me (especially the visual of George’s beautiful tree paintings!).
HS:Thank you for your questions! They were a pleasure to answer and I am thrilled that you enjoyed the novel! (Believe it or not, I’ve had several people ask me where they can see George’s “Sylvan Chapel.” And could I post a copy of it to my website…?)
Coming this Friday: The second part of this special, extensive feature for Sourcebook Landmark’s enrapturing, ghostly-engaging “Eco-Gothic” novel Perdita will be comprised of a thorough review, along with a Literary Tea Recommendation, specially prepared in our tea-kitchen (located right in the midst of the large library that makes up a Bibliophile’s Reverie!