Author: Simon Sylvester
Rating: 4 stars
Length: 368 pages
When I first heard about this book, I knew it included so many aspects that I love in books: an atmospheric and foggy feel, a mystery, a coming-of-age story with a female narrator, a modern day story touched by mythology, selkies, a remote island in northern Scotland. Official blurbs were throwing out lots of comparisons to Neil Gaiman and Tana French.
And the good news? I predictably really liked this book.
Flora lives with her mother, stepfather, and baby brother on the remote island of Bancree. She’s in her final year of school, and all she cares about is graduating and getting off the island. She doesn’t quite fit in at home or at school. Then, several things happen. A strange man and his daughter, Ailsa, move into an abandoned house. And men around the area, often on the fringes of the community, begin disappearing.
As Flora begins the school year, she’s drawn into a school project researching selkies. She finds a macabre book about selkies and begins collecting selkie stories from several sources, including her grandfather and a sennachie, or storyteller, who lives in a hut near the sea. And she befriends Ailsa, another girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and finds out she and her father have been moving from place to place across the Scottish coast. Motivated by his own loss, Ailsa’s father has devoted his life to tracing a string of strange disappearances, much like the disappearances that are now happening in Bancree.
The book isn’t perfect. It’s slow to start (a bit too much rumination over breaking up with the boyfriend) and gets a bit overdramatic for my taste at the end.
That being said, The Visitors is well-written, atmospheric, and evokes a sad, lonely feel for life on what feels like the edge of the world. Flora was a great narrator. The story is a mystery, but it didn’t feel like a traditional mystery story throughout. Flora doesn’t set out to solve it, like a Scottish Nancy Drew. For most of the book, it feels more like a strange backdrop, until events draw Flora in. Also, the selkie elements were wonderfully woven in. The book is sprinkled with different selkie myths that are told to Flora, and these tales were some of my favorite parts. Selkie myths are so interesting to me–stories of people torn between the land and the sea, the way love and loss are intimately braided together.
Final disclaimer: I won this book from a GoodReads Giveaway (thanks!) in return for an honest review.