Monday, September 11, 2023

Mirage by David Ralph Viviers

I love a good mystery that flirts with magical realism, and Mirage by David Ralph Viviers blends so much of what I love. Part Karoo-gothic, part mystery that teases at time-travelling, this is a book that is difficult to fully quantify. And maybe it should not be picked apart, because in its lyrical prose it presents us with lush narrative ambiguity that plays out against the backdrop of the South African hinterlands and all the mysteries that abound there.

We have two threads interwoven in the mythical Karoo town of Sterfontein. On the brink of the South African War, writer Elizabeth Tennant stays here in a hotel frequented by those wishing to convalesce in the Karoo's fresh air. She grapples with her own, deep sense of loss while trying to claim meaning for herself. We also meet Michael, a university student whose deep fascination with the life and work of Elizabeth sees him delving into her journal and the mystery surrounding her death. He, too, carries a great burden of loss, which he subconsciously tries to work through by uncovering the secrets presented in Elizabeth's work.

I really don't want to delve into particulars, because that would ruin the journey for you. And this is a journey, liberally flavoured with the aesthetic of the Karoo's history. Threaded through this tale that blooms like the enigmatic Boophone disticha, are the light of distant stars and delicate strands of past and present woven together in the discrete threads of a surprisingly interlinked narrative. 

Grief and disappointment are hallmarks of the human condition, and Viviers takes these aspects of his characters' lives and examines them closely, then puts them together again in a way that made me sit back and say, "Oh." He effortlessly evokes the magic and mystery of this region in a way that only those who've fallen under the Karoo's spell will fully understand. This is an old landscape. It has drunk many tears. In it, you may examine your own life set against an ancient backdrop where you truly understand how insignificant one human life is. And yet each brief flowering is precious.

Much like Elizabeth steps into a liminal space, you do, too, following Michael as he embarks on a road trip that will allow him to confront aspects of self and his past that he has not dealt with, along with gaining a better understanding of the woman whose words have moved him to journey to Sterfontein. Everything is connected; everything is significant. 

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