Title: The Visitors by Catherine Burns
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
With the smart suspense of Emma Donoghue’s Room and the atmospheric claustrophobia of Grey Gardens, Catherine Burns’s debut novel explores the complex truths we are able to keep hidden from ourselves and the twisted realities that can lurk beneath even the most serene of surfaces.
Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother John in a crumbling mansion 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 live by John’s rules, even if it means turning a blind eye to the noises she hears coming from behind the cellar door…and turning a blind eye to the women’s laundry in the hamper that isn’t hers. For years, she’s buried the signs of John’s devastating secret into the deep recesses of her mind—until the day John is crippled by a heart attack, and Marion becomes the only one whose shoulders are fit to bear his secret. Forced to go down to the cellar and face what her brother has kept hidden, Marion discovers more about herself than she ever thought possible. As the truth is slowly unraveled, we finally begin to understand: maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side….
The Visitors by Catherine Burns is a rather dark character study featuring a middle aged woman who lives in the family home with her brother who harbors a chilling secret.
Marion Zetland is in her mid fifties and she has never moved out of her family home. Now residing with her brother, John, she escapes her somewhat dreary existence with her elaborate daydreams about people she meets, watching TV and binge eating. Marion also lives in fear of disappointing John who has a quick temper and a dark secret. After John falls ill, Marion has no choice but to face what her brother has been doing all these years in their cellar.
Life in the Zetland household has always been dysfunctional. The youngest of the siblings, Marion was never anywhere close to being John’s intellectual equal and she struggled to pass any of her classes. Plagued with social awkwardness, she endured painful bullying from her classmates but Marion could always count on John to make her feel better about herself. Their parents had extremely high expectations for John’s future, but Marion always fell short of the mark and as a result, she does not feel worthy of anyone’s love or respect. Her loyalty to John is absolute and she will do anything to make him happy. Even if that means turning a blind eye to his activities and never questioning what he is doing in their cellar.
The pacing of the story is quite slow since the main focus is the minutiae of Marion’s day to day life. These chapters are boring and repetitive since she does little beyond watching the TV while soothing herself by overeating. She has a rich fantasy life in which she lapses into elaborate daydreams about her imaginary relationships with people from her real life. There are also long passages that flashback to her childhood and while these chapters offer insight into what shaped her into the woman she is today, they are overly detailed and excessively long. Marion is occasionally worried about the strange noises emanating from the cellar but she easily pushes her concerns aside.
The Visitors has an unusual premise but readers might be a little frustrated due to the lack of suspense surrounding John’s cellar activities and a rambling storyline. It is not very difficult to deduce who the visitors are or what John is doing with them. Marion is initially a sympathetic character but it is easy to become impatient with her complacency. With a few not completely unexpected revelations, Catherine Burns brings the novel to a twist-filled conclusion.