I was in two minds about whether to read this novel or not but I was swayed by seeing so many positive reviews.
Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.
Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.
As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side.
I have to be the reviewer that goes against the grain on this one – The Visitors has garnered some fantastic early reviews, but it was not the book for me. I’d read a lot of reviews prior to reading this book so I was under no illusions before starting this novel; many reviews had stated this is not a fast-paced thrill ride, but more of a slow-paced character study. I am in agreement with that, I have enjoyed a few slower paced novels lately and I enjoy a good character study so I opted to read this one.
My main issue with this novel was it felt like it was on a loop – three quarters of this novel was ‘incident where Marion was made to feel low’ after ‘incident where Marion was made to feel low’ on repeat. Now ordinarily this wouldn’t bother me as each incident was different, but I felt like after each incident we didn’t learn anything new about Marion. From the blurb – “A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears” – the reader can gather an idea of the kind of character Marion is and after a few incidences were described from Marion’s childhood and adult life, her character study was complete, I felt there was no need to continue showcasing more incidences as we already knew Marion’s character.
The same was true of the John, he mistreated Marion, and we got to know his character very early on so there was no need to continue showcasing examples of it. Now usually this build-up of repetitive information works if you’re leading up to a plot twist or reveal; but again, once you started reading this novel, if you can’t make an educated guess from the blurb, the “gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden” comes as no surprise at all. It felt a bit like the majority of this novel could have been told in a chapter or two.
Yes, I like my novels dark and The Visitors is a dark novel, but I felt it was also surface level, the psyche of the characters was never truly explored indepth. When I read a character study, I like to remain thinking about that character, be shocked or appalled, have some kind of reaction but here it all felt rather bland. There were definitely themes of misplaced loyalty and evilness but it just didn’t come to life in the way I’d hoped. There was no creepy atmosphere, no unsettled vibes, I wasn’t disturbed by the characters in anyway.
I did like the ending, mainly because it was a different “incident” to all those explained earlier on but it didn’t come as a surprise. I do like the fact that Burns didn’t change the pace, tone or tempo when she told this part of the plot – if I had enjoyed the earlier part of the novel, I think it would have been one of those endings that’s great because it feels like the author wasn’t trying to be great but simply telling you what happened and by default it was great [I hope that makes sense]. You know sometimes, events can feel forced in a novel, nothing felt forced here and I appreciate that, even though the novel did not hold my interest.
Unfortunately, I can’t, in good confidence, recommend this novel. It will certainly appeal to some readers but this was not the book for me.