The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull
|The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A beautifully crafted mesh of conquering adversity/hist-fict/ghost story with a murder investigation slipped in for good measure. A satisfying novel that's worth every penny and, indeed, every melting moment spent in its company. Rebecca Mascull popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us about writing historical fiction.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: January 2014|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
Adeliza Golding is comfortably off by Victorian standards. She lives in a sizeable house, her parents can afford servants, Liza's father owns and runs a hop farm, but... The but is considerable as Liza is different from most: she's deaf/blind and isolated from the world with only 'the visitors' for company and communication in her mind. Almost in desperation when Liza is six, her father calls on Charlotte Crowe for help. Lottie penetrates Liza's lonely world by teaching her finger writing. However, in doing so she unlocks revelations that Lottie would rather be kept secret. For not everything changes; the visitors remain, whoever they are and whatever they want.
English writer Rebecca Mascull has presented us with one of those 'It's never a first novel?!' debuts that will be difficult for her to follow. That's her problem though, ours is... Actually, apart from the odd patois that the narrative begins in (and that vanishes at the end of the first page) I had no significant problems with it whatsoever.
I must admit before starting I feared it would be a modern retelling of Helen Keller's story (someone I read a lot about in my youth and well worth looking up if you aren't familiar with her struggles). However, as wonderful as Helen's real journey was, this novel is totally different while being just as absorbing.
It may be no huge surprise when we discover the identity of the visitors but this isn't a story of twists (not until we reach the murder anyway). This is the story of dreams and triumphs in extreme adversity written by an author with the ability to translate the frustrations and hidden world of the isolated and voiceless (and we aren't just talking about Liza). Yes, research goes a long way but skill is needed to make research riveting and, as she demonstrates, skill is something that Ms Mascull doesn't lack.
The prose goes from what can only be described as stark suddenness to an evocative, poetic richness as we're transported through the mores, restrictions and customs of the Victorian/Edwardian era. The texture becomes almost 3D as we spend time with the Kentish hop pickers and Whitstable oyster farmers before being vicariously whisked away to the Boer War via some graphically detailed letters demonstrating that barbarity isn't exclusively enemy territory. One could churlishly wonder how letters like that escaped the censors' pencils before arriving in Blighty, but they work so well as a literary device that, if one was wonder churlishly, it would only be momentary.
As with a lot of historical fiction, The Visitors shows recognisable signs of the era in which it was written as well as that by which it was influenced. In this case the girls muse over why British men are dying for a cause that has no apparent bearing on daily British life, something we've all either felt ourselves or witnessed in others in recent years.
This is indeed a novel of charm and well-researched detail with moments of great poignancy, any minor glitches reducing the grading from 6* out of 5 to a mere 5*. So please don't let me hold you up any longer, just remember that for each copy of the book you read or give as a gift, you will also need a hankie or two to go with it.
We'd like to thank Hodder & Stoughton for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If this has left you with an urge to read more about the Victorians and South Africa, try The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull at Amazon.com.
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