“Creepy, eccentric, chilling” are the three words Catherine Burns uses when I ask her to describe her debut novel The Visitors. And yes, this is a description that I agree with; it is dark, it is sinister, it is ‘grip lit’ that is truly unnerving in its subtlety.
The novel focuses on Marion, a woman now in her 50s who has always been considered odd and plain by those around her. She is a lonely figure, creating fantasies in her head where she is loved and respected, yet in reality she shares her single bed with soft toys she considers her friends. She lives with older brother John, a sinister bully that is ‘well over six feet tall and with a huge belly that hung over his leather belt.’
When I had the privilege of meeting Burns, she referred to her novel as a ‘creepy, psychological family portrait.’ And crikey, it sure is as Marion chooses to ignore John’s ‘visitors’; young vulnerable women he holds captive against their will in the cellar. However when John suffers a heart attack, Marion is forced to go down to the cellar and confront the gruesome consequences of her passivity.
The Visitors is Marion’s story. In my view it is a character driven story, which really appeals to me as we get intimate knowledge of Marion’s back story and family life. However there is no denying it – The Visitors is an uncomfortable yet compelling read.
Burns says that she was drawn to write the novel as she has always been intrigued by women who appear to go unnoticed in society, until they are associated with the horrific crimes of the men in their lives; women such as Maxine Carr (the partner of Ian Huntley) and Primrose Shipman (Harold Shipman’s wife).
Marion is an eccentric whose actions might appear to go against our moral code. However in my view she is a likable character that I think in some ways, we can all relate to. Her invisibility is a consequence of her low self-worth; ‘she never considered how she might appear to other people at all because, in general, people did not look at her.’
As Burns points out when I meet her, in our society we are all quick to make assumptions, especially with ‘invisible’ women. Hence Burns does wonder if The Visitors will enable its readers to empathise with people in society that we wouldn’t normally do so, and hence making them more visible.
I can’t urge you enough to read The Visitors. It is a dark and twisted novel that really made me think. I have never read a novel like this.
Catherine Burns is a unique and brilliant new voice in literary fiction. I really believe we are going to hear a lot about her and her writing in the future. So quick, get out there and grab your copy of The Visitors now. You won’t be disappointed!
Thank you Legend Press for sending me an advanced copy of The Visitors in return for an honest review. Thank you also to Catherine Burns for giving me the brilliant opportunity to interview you.
Publication date of The Visitors: 3 October 2017.
Also for all you book lovers in Manchester, Chorlton Bookshop is hosting the Manchester book launch of The Visitors this coming Saturday 7 October. Also celebrating ‘Bookshop Day’, Chorlton Bookshop in association with Legend Press is hosting the event from The Lloyds across the road where refreshments will be available. For more details please go to the Chorlton Bookshop Facebook page.