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Perdita is a lesser known character from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which I have never read or really had any familiarity whatsoever with any of its characters till settling down to read Hilary Scharper’s enrapturing, thoughtful, strangely alluring ghostly, gothic mystery tale. The basic premise of the story involves Garth, a History Professor, with a troubling past wherein the supposed love of his life, whom he wasn’t really convinced he was in love with was killed in an automobile accident. This tragic note at the beginning of the story underscores a much deeper, poignant story that slowly envelops the story, through the form of diary entries, written by a woman named Marged Brice, who is almost obdurately convinced, without a shadow of doubt or hint of duplicity, that she is 134 years old.
Being a history professor, the main character serves as our representative skeptic, our figurative Scully so-to-say, who expresses the same credulity that we have when Marged Brice first dubiously speaks those doubtful words to the story’s main perspective, but not main character, who merely serves as an inquisitive, earnest listener and investigator, much like ourselves. While his story is still lightly developed, I never felt that it was ever really a dominant feature in this story, as it is the mystery of the enigmatic women name Marged Brice, who believes that she is 134 years old, whose story is vicariously experienced as Garth reads from the diary that she lends to him, which is what really allows the main story arc to take center-stage.
It is at this point where the more poignant story begins, and we are introduced to a wide range of endearing, vibrant characters, who all live in a lakeside town in a rural section of Cananda, between the major metropolitan areas of Toronto and Montreal This is where we begin to see things from the strangely nature-focused world of nineteen year old Marged Brice’s perspective, where she befriends one distinguished man that studies birds for a living and finds herself falling deeply in love with a painter with a yearning to depict the natural world around him through mesmerizing, unconventionally-abstract paintings. At points, the story does sometimes have trouble holding the reader’s interest, especially when the portraits of the various characters that comprise the cast of the town’s denizens, are sometimes overlooked, in favor of a digression of the plot into a confusing, slightly contrived Gothic subplot, involving weird phantasmagorical visions of a young-girl in peril. Then we are given some rather long-winded glimpses, at one point in the story, to a terribly inexplicable deterioration of Marged Brice’s health into something that could be either construed as depression, or a severe illness of sorts. Perhaps due to less knowledge about certain medical or psychological conditions, in particular, Marged would have naturally lacked the words to describe the condition in a more modern way.
Nonetheless, these scenes sometimes are written too cryptically/confusedly to the point of feeling slightly abstruse to the reader, versus being meaningful or purposeful, when compared to the aforementioned character drama, involving Marged Brice and others she grew alongside with in her lake-side community. These scenes reminded me fondly of an early nineties television series called Avonlea, which was a deep character drama that never sagged with an over-the-top cloying feeling, much like the deftly-handled character drama we deal with in this novel. When you have supernatural elements, or things that defy the logic of the more mundane plot-line, you need the supernatural tale to strongly compliment the story, but I just felt like these scenes detracted from the more fascinating, riveting smaller stories we get throughout Marged Brice’s dairy entries, where she writes about the different little episodic dramas that make up her daily life.
Basically,I found the supernatural elements of the novel to be terribly lacking due to this anemic, slightly contrived development as if they could only exist incongruously with the more satisfying insights that Hilary Scharper makes into the relationships Marged Brice has with the various people of her community and beyond (when she meets the dour, though strangely affable Dr. Reid and the intimidatingly robust, commanding Dr. Stone during her winter trip in Toronto). It is these character-focused scenes, harkening to the same deep, diverse personalities that are a fundamental part of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing, which are the strongest element of this novel.
Whenever the novel attempts to dabble into a terribly confusing supernatural plot-line (with a few confounding elements of disarranged metaphysical elements), it becomes emotionally cold to me, as a reader, whereas scenes discreetly describing Marged Brice’s complex romantic feelings she has for George, a famous painter, through powerfully subtle, languid scenes of their various encounters throughout the novel tend to be the strongest asset of Hilary Scharper’s writing. Ironically, the book features an acerbic art critic later in the story, who describes some of George’s paintings as being terribly confused in their interpreted meaning, whereas some of his art is staggering in its perfect artful reflection of specific areas of nature. It is the latter that best defines the strongest elements of the story- the deliberately drawn out conversations with the many well-constructed characters in Marged Brice’s world, along with the complicated, mature romance story that accompanies these smaller character vignettes, contained within Marged Brice’s diaries.
Yet the ending of the story, without spoiling any potential readers, is still a sobering, beautiful portrait of the multifarious elements of our lives that diverge and converge at different times, in way where certain events can unlock other events, as though everything is connected. You cannot help but be reminded vaguely of that powerful line from David Mitchell’s masterfully written novel Cloud Atlas, about one single drop of water,amongst other drops of water, in the metaphoric wide ocean of life can cause a massive paradigm shift in the way things unfold in life. The way our relationships are shaped, on a daily basis, through our various interactions, do accumulate over time, producing great, unprecedented results in the wide body of water of civilization or life itself.
Even if the ghost story itself within Perdita never feels quite as satisfying as the engrossing character drama of the novel, the novel as a whole still will most certainly resonate with you at some point in the midst of reading it. It is something that shot chills down my spine, like a ghostly vapor was snaking its way down my spine. Additionally, the novel, as a whole, is definitely another strong representation of the top-notch writing quality represented in most of the Sourcebook Landmark books. Even if I subjectively found certain things lacking, at least to my eyes, it is still very strongly written and has great pacing/an innovative narrative structure. If you are looking for a novel that is a pastiche of certain stylized traditional gothic suspense elements combined with a strong character-focused story, you may want to check out Perdita.
Literary Tea Recommendation: Integritea Relax Tea, or Tranquil Perdita Tea
To accompany your tranquil, invigorating read of Hilary Scharper’s Perdita, I recommend Integritea‘s Relax Blend, which contains hibiscus, notes of various berries, chamomile, etc., making it something which will calmly lull you into the right comfortably soporific state of mind needed to allow your overactive mind to be absorbed in Hilary Scharper’s poetic prose.
The tea itself uncannily tastes much like you’d imagine the climate of that region of Cananda, where Marged Brice lived in a lighthouse with her aunt,uncle, father, and sickly mother. It is essentially a soothing, flowery chamomile, with strident notes of berry and sharp hibiscus tea that is also emblematic of range of chaotic emotions, which the artist that Marged Brice falls in love with, projects onto his art. He is always futilely seeking forbearance, in desperation, when he is painting things like a copse of various trees that almost form a church, and resemble a very sacrosanct environment, in which the dream of the potential relationship he might have with Marged Brice were possible, or that the calamity and torment of his past could be pacified, just by recreating this peaceful, thought-provoking scene through art.
Doesn’t drinking anxiety-reducing tea blends, like Integritea‘s Relax blend, while reading something sobering/engrossing like Perdita, have that same ability to help us have a moment, where the frenetic lives that we have in the busy world amidst us is suspended, and we can then spend much needed time, peacefully pondering dreams and fantasies that have the capacity to fullfill some empty hole in ourselves?