By coincidence, we recently received two novels for review,
both called The Watcher, one by James
Howe (also reviewed in Cyberteens), and this one by Margaret
Buffie. Apart from their titles, the two novels are quite different.
Margaret Buffie's book, The Watcher, is a surrealistic
tale about 15-year-old Emma and her younger sister, Summer.
The book's jacket states:
Although I have not read her other novels, I can attest that
The Watcher certainly fits this description. The story
begins ordinarily enough, with Emma's mother explaining that
because the family finances are tight, Emma will need to get
a summer job to help out. At first Emma is reluctant. She worries
about Summer, whose health seems to be deteriorating, and she
feels she is needed at home where she can watch out for her
little sister. However, being the dutiful daughter she is, Emma
agrees to take a job helping an elderly neighbor, "Poppy"
Maxim, who has recently moved into the town with his son, Albert.
Winnipeg writer and artist Margaret Buffie finds the idea
of a seemingly ordinary person thrust into a bizarre, magical
world both frightening and intriguing, and this idea has
been present in all her novels.
As the novel progresses, we find that Emma's circumstances
are anything but ordinary. Her father, an artist, has decided
to build a Stonehenge-like monument, complete with altar, in
the middle of a field near their house. Her mother has recently
embarrassed Emma by waltzing into her classroom wearing a crown
of flowers, talking about organic beekeeping and the lost arts
of the Wiccas. But odd as they are, the eccentricities of Emma's
parents pale in comparison with the Maxims. They live in a strange-smelling
house in which vines painted on the walls appear to be taking
over the rooms.
The surrealism begins when Poppy insists that Emma play a strange
and complex game called "Fidchell" with him. It turns
out that Emma is good at the game, which requires a great deal
of strategy. It's a good thing she's so skillful, for the game
is not really a game but an alternate reality. When Emma finally
realizes this, she learns that Poppy and Albert are not who
they seem to be. She also discovers her own true identity and
the destinies she and her sister must fulfill.
It's not surprising that Buffie is an artist as well as a writer.
Her writing is full of lush descriptions--lush to a fault, some
might say. Here is a typical passage:
Prose like this makes it easier to visualize the strange world
into which Emma is thrust. However, at times I felt the descriptions
got in the way of the action, slowing the pace too much. I admit
that I skimmed over some sentences, eager to learn what happened
Huw turns a corner just ahead and the hounds begin a high-pitched
braying. I sneak after them. Huw is standing in the middle
of a large room, looking at a small glass table of some
kind. From the middle of the table, a purple light, like
a thin thread, hangs in the air right up to the cave's ceiling.
The hounds run in circles, their noses close to the rough
floor. They wuff and growl deep in their throats. Across
the space is another cave entrance covered in a net of vines.
Some of the trailing creepers have crawled into the cave
and wound themselves up around two brown columns at each
side of the opening. Will Huw go through it? Will I have
the nerve to follow?
If you are intrigued by fantasy and magic, you'll love this
novel. I liked Fidchell so much that I wished the game existed
for real. On the other hand, if you are a stickler for realism,
this is not the book for you.
Click here to buy The
Watcher at Amazon.com.