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The Watcher

by Margaret Buffie

reviewed by Julie Richer

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:

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.

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.

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:

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?

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 next.

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.