The Visitors - Simon Sylvester

I can't remember how I first came across this book, but it'd been on my list for a while before I got around to requesting it from my library...

 

The Visitors is set on a small Scottish island, one where the main employment is the local distillery or the fish farm and the children travel across to the mainland by ferry for school every day. Because the island is so small, there are very few children living there and our story is told from the point of view of one of them, Flora, who is 17 and desperate to finish school and leave - when we first meet her, she's with her boyfriend, who is also from the island but who is a year older and off to university in England.

 

In the background of the story is a series of disappearances of local people, one which has the police baffled, and the arrival of a father and daughter to a previously-abandoned cottage near where Flora lives. At school, Flora is given a project to write on Scottish folklore and ends up writing about selkies after discovering a copy of a book on the subject at a local jumble sale and also hearing stories from the local storyteller, who lives on one of the island's beaches. Perceptive readers of this review can probably put the pieces together and figure out that all these things are connected. 

 

Anyway, on finishing The Visitors, I'm left feeling a little ambivalent about the book. There are good things about it, particularly the writing, which gives a good sense of place and is quite atmospheric, if not claustrophobic at times. However, it's let down a little (to my mind) by being in first person and also by the use of an attempted rape as a significant plot point - the same set-up could have been managed without things going that far and men writing about women being assaulted always feels a little salacious to me. Likewise this is a man's view on what life is like as a teenage girl and there was one point late in the story where I was left going 'huh?' at what was supposedly going on in Flora's head.

 

So, all in all not a bad book and I finished it regardless of those issues. I can't say I'll read The Visitors again but it wouldn't definitely put me off considering anything the author might write in the future.