Sunday, 12 November 2017

Book review : The Visitors - Catherine Burns

Without revealing the whole sordid picture, the blurb on the back of the book gives very big hints of what is to come : "Marion 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."

There are no prizes for guessing what Marion will discover in the cellar, but this is unimportant - the book is a chilling look at the "how" rather than the "what". The novel intertwines stories from the siblings' past as well as their present, which give great insight into their unconventional and disturbing lives. With a deceased wayward father and a cold distant mother, the children were never shown how to love and enjoy life in their formative years. With her mother's incessant warnings about the dangers lurking in the most banal, day-to-day situations echoing in her head, Marion, crippled by fear, has become largely reclusive, spending her days with soft toys, imaginary friends and daytime soap operas. She has been ill-equipped to deal with real life and lives in the shadow of her manipulative and seemingly psychopathic brother.

As if painstakingly putting together the pieces of the mosaic of their personalities which will only reveal the complete picture at the very end, the author reveals anecdotes from their childhoods and scenes from their unhappy cohabitation which help to show the reader how they came to become the dysfunctional adults that they are today. This drip-feeding is tantalisingly slow because we all want to know exactly what is lurking in the cellar, but each new piece of the puzzle does give greater insight and understanding. Their upbringing certainly explains but does not justify their actions and skewed moral compasses. 

The end of the novel is satisfyingly double-edged because it leaves you full of questions. Quite surprisingly, Marion finally manages to find a happy ending, but does she deserve it? Is she a victim, shaped by her unhappy childhood, or equally to blame? The same questions could be asked about her brother. Perhaps the most chilling reflection is that Marion ends up as an outwardly respectable, perfectly integrated member of society, whose new persona hides the damaged core within. It makes you look at the people sitting next to you on the bus or in the supermarket queue and wonder what deep dark secrets are lurking beneath their respectable exteriors, and that is enough to give you the chills, long after you have finished reading the final page ! It's a disturbing, unsettling but strangely addictive read.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (3 Oct. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1787199851
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787199859

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.


  1. This book lingers on your mind for a long time, such a disturbing story. It is clever, but very very dark.

    1. The worst thing is, it's very believable - it seems impossible but sadly the news shows us that it can and does happen in real life.


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