The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull (pbk)

Reviewed by Jane Carter

visitors-paperback-cover-hi-resWhen I first read about this book, Rebecca Mascull’s debut novel, I was intrigued. It seemed that the story would bring together so many elements I love to find in books …..

  • Female Friendship
  • Ghost Story
  • Victoriana
  • Coming of Age
  • Love Story

And, when I read the book, I found that they had been spun into a story that was both original and engaging.

It is the story of the daughter, the only child, of a hop farmer, born in late Victorian England, told from the moment of her birth.

When I cry out and open my eyes I see a grey blur. Within it crowds a host of faces; pale and curious, they whisper and nod. This is my first meeting with The Visitors.

Adeliza is born with little sight, and what little she has she quickly loses. And then, she is struck by the cruelest of blows: she loses her hearing to a fever. She cannot communicate with the world; she only has The Visitors. But she rages to live and to explore the world. As she grows she runs wild, beyond the control of her parents and their servants.

Her voice was so real, so clear, that I completely understood, and my heart went out to her.

The Visitors themselves were a strange idea; and I found that a leap of faith was needed to move forward with the story; but I found that it was an easy leap to make, and as the story moved forward I was so glad that I made it.

One day Liza runs into the path of Lottie, a young hop picker. Lottie seizes her by the hand and finds a way to communicate; she draw patterns onto Liza’ hand. Liza’s father sees this happen, and he takes Lottie into his household. She teaches Liza, she finds ways to bring her into the world. It was so wonderful to watch that process, and to be able to share Liza’s sheer joy in everything that she learns and discovers.

An operation restores Liza’s sight – the sight that had been stolen from her by cataracts – allows her to learn and discover even more. Her emotions as she sees the world that she had previously only known by touch are palpable, and so very, very moving.

All of this would be so easy to get wrong, but Rebecca Mascull gets it exactly right.

Liza was still constrained by her lack of hearing, but she was freed by an upbringing that had been free of so many of the restrictions that would have been placed on other children of her age.

Her relationship with Lottie grew from teacher-pupil into true friendship, and their bond grew stronger as Liza came to understand The Visitors, and was able to give something back to her friend in a time of trial. The ties that had developed between their two families would take the pair to South Africa, when her brother, Caleb, who they both loved dearly, was in terrible trouble. What they discovered there, what they had to do, what they learned, owed much to The Visitors, and it made Liza’s understanding of them complete.

I loved living with Liza through her remarkable journey from childhood to maturity; she was an intelligent, compassionate young woman as she sailed towards a new future.

I’d love to read the next chapter of her life story one day.

As a whole, this book worked beautifully. It wasn’t perfect: there were times when things fell into place too easily, and times where practicalities were glossed over. In the early part of the book I found it difficult to understand where Liza’s understanding of abstract concepts came from – though, when I think about it, I have no idea how I learned them myself.

I could understand why The Visitors were there, I could understand that they were an integral part of the story and it wouldn’t have worked without them, sometimes their presence seemed a little odd.

The important thing though, the thing that overrode everything else, was that I loved the heart and soul of this book. Liza’s voice rang true, and her story spoke so very profoundly about the sheer wonder of being alive, about the capacity to learn and grow, and about the importance of love and friendship.

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Rebecca Mascull, The Visitors.  (Mullholland Books: London, 2014). 978-1444738803, 304 pp., paperback.

Jane Carter lives on the Cornish coast with a lot of books and one small, brown dog. She blogs at ‘Fleur in her World’ (http://fleurfisher.wordpress.com).

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