Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Visitors by Caroline Scott. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Simon & Schuster for my digital review copy. Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, Jill at OnTheShelfBooks.
About the Book
1923. Esme Nicholls is to spend the summer in Cornwall. Her late husband Alec, who died fighting in the war, grew up in Penzance, and she’s hoping to learn more about the man she loved and lost.
While there, she will stay with Gilbert, in his rambling seaside house, where he lives with his former brothers in arms. Esme is fascinated by this community of eccentric artists and former soldiers, and as she gets to know the men and their stories, she begins to feel this summer might be exactly what she needs.
But everything is not as idyllic as it seems – a mysterious new arrival later in the summer will turn Esme’s world upside down, and make her question everything she thought she knew about her life, and the people in it.
Format: Hardcover (448 pages) Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 9th December 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
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I absolutely loved Caroline Scott’s two previous books, The Photographer of the Lost and When I Come Home Again and In The Visitors, she continues her exploration of the impact of the First World War on both those who fought and the loved ones of those who never came home.
Having enjoyed many happy holidays in Cornwall, I loved the setting and the way the author conjured up the beautiful landscape and seascape of the area around St. Ives. There is some wonderful descriptive writing that at times is almost poetic in nature. ‘Esme watched the morning mist lifting. In this opalescent light, the garden was a watercolour and the birdsong was like a salutation.’
The theme of the healing power of nature runs throughout the book. Having originally found solace in tending the garden of her employer, Mrs Pickering, when she was first widowed, Esme feels an immediate affinity with Mrs Pickering’s brother, Gilbert Edgerton, who has channelled his energy into creating a wonderful garden. Esme’s love of nature is shared by Rory, one of the former soldiers who form part of Gilbert’s household. Together Rory and Esme find joy in observing the flora and fauna that surround the house. ‘Rose-chafer beetles shone among the browning May blossom, glinting a metallic copper green.’ And I thought it was clever to include excerpts from the nature column that Esme contributes to her local newspaper back in Yorkshire.
I loved the idea that the act of planning a garden, nurturing plants, saving seed and sowing it again, and planting trees provide a sense of continuity and demonstrates a belief in the future. And that, with time, nature will return to even the most barren landscape, evidenced by the poppies and other wildflowers that bloomed in the abandoned battlefields of the Western Front.
Esme’s memories of her marriage to Alec, her reflection that more time has passed since his death than they spent together, is a poignant reminder of the grief that so many women experienced during and after the First World War; the dreams dashed and the lives changed forever. At one point Esme recalls how she and Alec had vowed to ‘be braver together, travel further, and never be like those couples who sat in disappointed silence’. Now, often all Esme has is that disappointed silence.
Each of the members of Gilbert’s household are deftly drawn so that the reader gets a sense of the very different ways in which the war has affected them, whether that’s physically, emotionally or psychologically. So there’s silence where once there was a beautiful singing voice, sleep disturbed by nightmares, a lingering sense of guilt at not having been able to save others. However, what also comes across is that they are a band of brothers who share a bond forged in war, one that can never be broken. The excerpts from Rory’s book documenting his experiences on the frontline provide the reader with a stark insight into the reality of war and depict the dreadful sights that he and his comrades witnessed. For Esme, reading Rory’s book also provides answers to the many questions that arise following the unexpected event part way through the book that turns everything on its head.
The Visitors is a book that rewards the reader on so many different levels. It’s a meditation on grief, betrayal and loss but also an affirmation that, despite discovering what you always believed to be true may have been an illusion, it is possible to find the strength to start over again and the courage to follow your heart.
Did The Visitors pass the ultimate test, namely that a Caroline Scott novel makes me cry at some point? You bet it did.
In three words: Eloquent, tender, emotional
Try something similar: Two Storm Wood by Philip Gray
About the Author
Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict – fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France. The Photographer of the Lost was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick