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`Once you start Catherine Burns's dark, disturbing, and enthralling debut novel, it's hard to stop. The Visitors is bizarrely unsettling, yet compulsively readable.' Iain Reid, Internationally Bestselling Author of I'm Thinking of Ending ThingsMarion 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.
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Maybe it’s the changing of seasons. The dusty twilight inching ever earlier, the temperature dropping: it makes you want to curl up with a glass of something and an excellent book. Or maybe it’s because some books simply lend themselves to hiding away and devouring the text in one ravenous gulp. The Visitors inspires that same page-turning hunger to read that I found when reading Emma Donoghue’s Room or Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.
It’s not just the disturbing subject matter which these books hold in common, unearthing morbid curiosity in the best of us, but the abstract point of view of the narrative. In The Visitors, we experience the story through Marion and John; middle aged siblings born to horribly dysfunctional parents who have grown up accordingly with their own unnervingly dysfunctional lives. It’s almost a study in nature vs nurture only there’s no placebo of normality, the darkness permeates every corner of these people’s sorry history and existence.
So can we sympathise with them? Not really, there are no likeable characters in this book although this didn't in any way detract from my enjoyment of it. If that’s the right word for a book that is designed to make you shudder. Marion is the embodiment of every small insecurity that any woman has ever felt, her constant fears and detailed fantasy sequences chiming with anyone who has ever spent a little too long thinking. However, Catherine Burns has written her to such an extreme that any moments of empathy make you recoil from yourself. John has no redeeming features whatsoever and serves his purpose well to keep you reading from the edge of your seat.
Of course, life got in the way of my being able to read this book in one sitting as I’d have loved to have done. But the world that Catherine Burns has created was stuck in a part of my brain until I could close this book for one final time, leaving me mulling it over when I probably should have been paying attention to the middle child’s spellings… I’ve been wondering what it is that makes a social misfit: is it genetics, experiences, a clash of culture, wealth, parenting, intelligence? Clearly it is all of these things, both in this work of fiction and in real life.
This is what is most alarming about The Visitors. It could absolutely be a story of true crime. Right through to the end, the only fantastical element to this book is the nod to spiritualism; something that you are never quite sure has been written as ‘real’ action or exaggerated in Marion’s head. The everyday and banal normality which surrounds the action, from Marion’s daytime TV habit to the collection of junk mail and household items littering the space, brings the horror very much into every day life.
This isn’t the fast paced book that you’d find in more classic crime thriller territory. The action takes place in the present and in the past in equal measure, the author peeling back the layers of history and experience of John and Marion so that we piece together lots of mini-mysteries throughout the story. It’s a twisted pathway of crime that winds throughout the book, touching every character until we finally understand what each of the siblings is capable of.
Now, how to phrase this without spoilers… considering how we are directed to expect certain horrific elements of the story, it’s testament to Catherine Burns’ plot construction that the final events are actually surprising, shocking even. A real achievement in a debut novel. It makes for a chilling yet satisfying ending to a reading experience that is full of suspense and is utterly worthy of devouring.
"Burns blurs the line between crime fiction and horror... Deliberate pacing, a claustrophobic setting, and vivid, wildly unsympathetic characters complement the twisted plot and grim conclusion." -- Publishers Weekly "Atmospheric, eerie and affecting. Catherine Burns has created a complex and chilling world in which nothing is as it seems. A very clever confident novel, beautifully plotted with multiple twists and turns. I couldn't stop reading it." -- Suellen Dainty "Burns combines a study of a middle-aged woman, a tale of a highly dysfunctional family and slow burn of a mystery, creating a compelling read that's at once highly entertaining and wholly disturbing ... A dark and thrilling debut novel: disturbing, gripping, and hugely impressive." -- Luke Marlowe `Once you start Catherine Burns's dark, disturbing, and enthralling debut novel, it's hard to stop. The Visitors is bizarrely unsettling, yet compulsively readable.' -- <strong>Iain Reid, Internationally Bestselling Author of <cite>I'm Thinking of Ending Things</cite></strong>