From the highly acclaimed author of The Photographer of the Lost, a
BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick, comes a tale of a young war widow and
one life-changing, sun-drenched visit to Cornwall in the summer of
Esme Nicholls is to spend the summer in Cornwall. Her late husband Alec,
who died fighting in the war, grew up in Penzance, and she’s hoping to
learn more about the man she loved and lost.
While there, she will stay with Gilbert, in his rambling seaside house,
where he lives with his former brothers in arms. Esme is fascinated by
this community of eccentric artists and former soldiers, and as she gets
to know the men and their stories, she begins to feel this summer might
be exactly what she needs.
But everything is not as idyllic as it seems – a mysterious new arrival
later in the summer will turn Esme’s world upside down, and make her
question everything she thought she knew about her life, and the people in it.
Full of light, laughter and larger-than-life characters, The Visitors is a novel of one woman finally finding
her voice and choosing her own path forwards.
I have been a fan of Caroline Scott’s writing since she published her first novel The Photographer of the Lost, so I was very excited to be offered the opportunity to review this her third novel The Visitors. I have been in a bit of a reading slump and I hoped her always nuanced and moving writing would cure my malaise, it did and I absolutely adored it.
In The Visitors we are treated to a touching story about love and loss. More, she has delivered a masterclass in the divide that opened up between those that fought in the trenches of the First World War and their loved ones at home. The psychological and physical damage caused by the horror of war left many men unable to function in normal society, or left them unable to talk to those they loved about their experiences. A gulf opened up between men and their families, The Visitors gives a voices to both, in a tender tale of one women’s journey to find the answers to the grief that he overshadowed her life.
It would have been easy for the writer to make this a simple story about Esme’s search for answers, but she does much more than this, she weaves her story with that of a group of men damaged in many different ways. They have found shelter in a communal life, locked away from a world they fought to protect, but which has failed to understand their trauma. Her premise being if both can open up, maybe they can be each others redemption, each others family, friend, confidant. Crafting from real lived experiences it is a story of hope, a ray of light, about a nation struggling to emerge from a collective trauma and gingerly trying to come to terms with the shattered dreams of their youth.
Her writing allows to us experience the journey that took these men to hold each other so close and to why Esme still holds tight to a lost love. She has a historians innate understanding of the events that shape the story she is writing and a writers talent to draw images from the air and lay them down on the page. She weaves events from the front and balances them against their and Esme’s loss of innocence, their dislocation from their previous lives, with her sense of betrayal, as her role in the war effort is dismissed and she, like them are asked to do something neither is capable of, pretend that they are okay.
It is a devastating and yet redemptive piece of writing, achingly tender, beautifully written.
About the author
Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict –fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire,
but now lives in southwest France. The Photographer of the Lost was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick.