by Isa Pearl Ritchie
I like a book with short chapters of just a few pages each – it makes for easy reading, especially when time for this is grabbed in snatches.
When the episodes follow several characters in turn, however, it can be difficult for each to become established and remain in the mind between reading sessions.
Fifty pages into this book, and not seeming to get to grips with them, I went back to the beginning and made myself brief notes about each of the five people who are the subjects of the 99 short chapters. It helped me follow the various stories as they occur.
Marcia, 55, recent widow – lived in London, returns to her old home in Hamilton.
Iris, 40s, has teenage son Alex. Quit her job in Wellington, rents house in Raglan.
Zane, a musician and songwriter – Kiwi who has not returned to NZ in years.
Lea, 16, deeply dissatisfied about her family and her place in it.
Mrs Everglade, elderly, has travelled in the past, now settled in her Hamilton home.
Each of them became fleshed out as I worked through the episodes.
Marcia, with her counselling training and interest in alternative therapies and tarot, decides to teach courses. “Energy centres have been depicted in so many different ways: as symbols, as patterns, as flowers. I imagine them in the colours of the rainbow…”
There she meets Iris who is writing a book. “It was almost like I was typing words that were already written in the blueprint of my life like I was following a plan I couldn't even see.” She doesn’t resist any urge to share her philosophies throughout in preachy fashion and I find myself hoping she never finishes that book.
Zane too is undergoing a period of self-reflection of the middle-aged. “When Zane performed, he felt like he could feel the pulse of the world…this was the closest thing to religion Zane had ever believed in, and in concert, he was the messiah.” He expresses himself in the words of his songs.
Lea, so full of teenage angst, so devoid of confidence, chooses to smoke, “provoking equal parts of revulsion and pleasure. Just like self-pity, just like any self-destructive indulgence. The part she liked the most was the damage she knew she was doing to her lungs, to her future.” She pours out her angst in lengthy and inscrutable poetry, though it is no doubt meaningful to herself. I hope she grows up some day.
There are secrets that link the four main characters. I’m not sure why Mrs Everglade is included – the book would work just as well without her.
Marcia leads her class – “Take a deep breath. Exhale and go deeper into awareness. Focus on the area around your navel.” She and Iris keep on over-analysing situations. It is a teenage friend who tells Lea, “Life is full of pain and every other emotion. That’s what makes it interesting and sad and beautiful.” Zane, in an interview, finds he is “the commentator in some bizarre documentary on human behaviour.” Between the four there’s a lot of navel-gazing.
It is the revealing of the secrets that link them that pulls the book together and is finally rewarding to the reader.
There are quite a few points throughout the book that I would question with the editor but, overall, The Seekers’ Garden will provide a satisfying read to those who favour novels with added depth.
Author: Isa Pearl Ritchie
Publisher: Te Rā Aroha Press