The Visitors is Catherine Burns' debut novel. I was intrigued by the cover. Something so simple - peeling wallpaper - and yet it somehow promised a darker read.
Who knows what lies behind the face presented to the world? What goes through someone's mind? What happens behind closed doors?
Fifty something spinster Marion lives with her older brother John in the house they grew up in. Nothing much in the house has changed since their parents died decades ago. Well, a few things.......there are visitors of John's in the cellar. Marion never goes to the cellar. In fact, she chooses to try and never acknowledge that there are 'visitors' in the basement. Instead, she finds solace in her stuffed animals and imagining friendships, relationships and situations that are a far cry from the life she is living. Marion is somewhat simple people say. Not so her brother John - he's intelligent - and manipulative.
Burns is just as manipulative with the reader. My thinking was one way as I started the novel, drawn into the story, but hesitant to turn the next page. It's impossible not to though - I wanted to see what path Burns would lead me down. Her descriptions of the siblings, their personalities and their actions produce a myriad of reactions in the reader - from sadness, to sympathy, to disgust, to apprehension and more.
And it seems like life will continue along this path for Marion....until the day John falls ill and lands in the hospital. And it falls to Marion to see to the visitors. And what happens next is not at all what I expected.....
Oh my, what a dark, disturbing novel! The premise has it's roots in reality, having taken inspiration from many newpaper reports. What Burns has done is imagine the mindset of someone who knows what is happening, but doesn't act. And what could have led to this inability to act.The flashbacks to Marion and John's childhood days are saddening, disturbing and a testament as to how childhood trauma can shape a person's future. The Visitors does not focus on lurid, descriptive details of what is happening in the basement. Instead it is a character study of John and Marion, their dysfunctional relationship and what shaped them. It is through Marion's eyes and memories that we see this.
I loved The Visitors - it was a very different read - unexpected, unpredictable and so addicting. I can't wait to see Catherine Burns' second novel! Read an excerpt of The Visitors. A reading group guide is also available. You can connect with Catherine Burns on Twitter.