Thursday, July 18, 2013


Perdita / Hilary Scharper
Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, c2013.
424 p.

If you would like to visit the Bruce Peninsula in North Ontario both now and then, try this novel of romantic suspense. The modern day story: Garth Hellyer, an historian working for the Longevity Project, interviews a stunning woman in a nursing home who claims to be 134 yr old Marged Brice. She says she hasn't died because of the constant presence of someone called Perdita holding her back. Garth, despite his scepticism, investigates, and agrees to read Marged's journals.

Thus the past is revisited -- Marged's journals are detailed, emotional, and complete, telling a story of a life in the early years of the Bruce. Her family is based at the lighthouse, and they live there all year round. When summer visitors arrive, her world expands. Marged's attachment to the sons of a wealthy family who summer nearby shapes her life. There is also a professor studying birds who spends summers there, and who encourages Marged's naturalist interests and her artistic abilities as well, teaching her to illustrate birds.

Marged is a little bit fey, sensing presences in the local graveyard and feeling a strong connection to "her trees". She knows, ultimately, she won't be able to leave the landscape that holds her so intensely. This, alongside the love interests that arise as she gets older, sets the stage for some drama and confusion. A wild landscape, a passionate yet determined girl, and a supernatural twist: it makes for a pretty fascinating read!

Of the two narratives, I much preferred Marged's journal story. The past was so full of colour and emotion, and felt much more believable to me than the present day story. Garth was a bit of a dud, and his complicated romantic storyline involving a childhood friend felt stilted and uninteresting. I didn't really feel much intrigue with these two, rather, it seemed like Marged had all the excitement! One thing that did drag on a bit was Marged's innocence about whether the men she had feelings for reciprocated them in any was pretty obvious and I was beginning to wonder if she needed to be hit over the head with it to finally clue in.

But despite this, I enjoyed this read, and think it was the perfect summer book. It reminds me of the classic novels of gothic suspense, though the 'gothic' nature lies more in the uncanny landscape than the people. In fact, Scharper wrote a wonderful article describing this novel as "eco-gothic" -- take a look to see how she defined (or didn't define) this term. The historical setting was thoroughly envisioned, with many small details creating a lush background for her story. There were all sorts of fascinating, eccentric supporting characters, mysterious events, threatening men and more. This was a chance find that I was glad to have discovered. Quite entertaining, and a wonderful setting.

Read an excerpt and find lots of extras like bird calls and Bruce Peninsula info on the author's page at S&S


  1. I'm glad you chanced upon this book; Marged's story sounds really interesting. (And I love the title, Perdita!) Can't wait to give this one a try.

  2. I liked Marged -- and the genesis of the name Perdita in her story is also fascinating -- a bit of history, a bit of myth. It really adds to the tale.

    1. Don't you just want to reveal this aspect of the story, the significance of Perdita? But of course we can't (without spoilers); I think anyone who enjoys myths and legends would find it interesting though. And I absolutely love the setting!

      Marged is naive, and one of the journal segments does feel longer than the others with that aspect of her character being so prominent, but I was able to accept that given her isolation. She didn't have all the Judy Blume and Norma Klein books that I counted on to begin to unravel the mysteries of relationships when I was a pre-teen/teen, and I don't think she had anyone at all to speak with about such things, unlike even Austen's heroines.

    2. Now that is a good point about Marged's naivety -- she really was very alone -- not even a mother to talk to. And no Judy Blume!

  3. The Bruce is my emotional home base, and Georgian Bay is "my" lake... so I've been both interested and kind of nervous about this. I think you may have convinced me to give it a try.

    1. Yikes, I hope it will meet with your approbation! That's a lot to live up to.


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