Monday, September 15, 2008

Sail on the Horizon: Reading Virgil Burnett's Scarbo Edge: a Romaunt

Scarbo Edge: a Romaunt by Virgil Burnett / with illustrations by the author (Blaurock Press, 2008).

About six pages into Scarbo Edge: a romaunt, an intuitive presumption of familiarity stilled my reading eyes. . . first chapter called 'The Golden Ampersand' . . . night train from Paris to Venice . . . a passionate tryst . . . . . . Venice . . . an erotic assignation. In a visual sense, these would be the first shadowy crosshatchings of my interaction with the text--one reading over another, a memory rising up from the shadows--from the past.

This evocative novel's first chapter appeared--I finally remembered--in a literary journal, an issue devoted to Venice. Not able to remember the specific journal, I did remember the cover image, a rather distinctive animal-faced Venetian door-knocker, and it was by this remembered image that I was able to trace the journal among my wife's collection: Descant, 128, Spring 2005. Looking at it now, I am fascinated by the eyes of this creature which seem almost alive with a sad resignation, as if weary of but another visitor wishing to gain entry, but another soul announcing their arrival. Within this same issue, there is a portfolio of photographs taken by the author when he was in Venice in the late 1950s--France and Italy being an annual pilgrimage for this artist/author. These photographs reveal a city of locals going about their business, a city that had yet to see the inundation of 'tourists' much bemoaned by present day writers such as Javier Marias in a fairly recent article. Perhaps the eyes of this creature reflect the present rise of landfalls and departures--the weight of the worlds' footsteps vibrating through the lagoons.

It is a city in which we find our idealistic hero Eber and his singular love, Isa, secretly celebrating their relationship. Eber, many years ago, met Isa when they were in architecture school, he three years her senior. They began an affair which was casual, non-possessive, modern. When Eber took a position with Marcus Associates he travelled widely and yet he always returned to renew his love with Isa. Disillusioned with Marcus' emphasis on making money and developing properties rather than creating innovative architecture, Eber resigned and travelled the world in an attempt to realign his life. Being an excellent draughtsman, he found work with archaeologists on Iron-age Celtic sites from Malta to Brittany to Cornwall. Years pass. He discovers that Isa has married Marcus, a loveless marriage of convenience. After their tryst in Venice and some attempts to cure his singular obsession, Eber returns to Canada, renting a somewhat run-down Victorian pile called Scarbo Edge on the rough coast of Lake Huron not far from Falaise, Marcus' mansion where Eber has discovered Isa resides. And so their relationship is renewed, fraught with dangers from the present, and possibly mirrored in the past.

Scarbo Edge is not only a variation on the Tristan and Isolde legend--the eternal love triangle, that triadic template for much of the Western narrative tradition from the Iliad on--but it incorporates a variation of the suspense genre as well. It is both an old story and a new one. It is a story of passionate physical love, of eroticism, of singular desire. A narrative richly veined with allusions and ambiguities, dualities and duplicities, ghostly parallels, existential wanderings, and mythic ordeals.

Virgil Burnett, artist and author, is a master of the line--'proportion, anatomy, and composition'-- and this mastery, informed by a wealth of experience and knowledge, finds its equivalence in his written word . His style is one of a born story-teller, both simply told and beautifully written. His descriptions of the physical relationship of a man and a woman is both exquisitely poetic, and vigorously real. A rich addition to Virgil Burnett's diverse oeuvre.

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