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The Visitors

by Simon Sylvester

Flora lives on the (fictitious) Scottish island of Bancree with her mother, stepfather and baby stepbrother Jamie. When her only ally, her boyfriend Richard, leaves the island for university in Bristol, Flora feels abandoned and lonely. Opposite the sound where their cottage lies is Dog Island, an uninhabited little rock of a place - until now. A couple, father and daughter, has arrived and set up home there in a semi-derelict cottage. The girl, Ailsa, is the same age as Flora. They start travelling to school together on the mainland and become friends, though Ailsa’s father, a brooding, surly man who is grieving the loss of his wife is very protective of his daughter and mildly disapproves of the more savvy Flora.

Strange things have been happening in the otherwise eventless Bancree. Two local men have disappeared in the last six months and when Flora’s stepfather’s friend Anders goes missing the islanders start to get really worried. Meanwhile, at school Flora has been working on a project about ‘selkies’ – creatures who are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. When events take a dark turn for Flora, she finds herself caught up in a situation she can’t control and her sense of reality becomes increasingly distorted.

This first novel intrigued me. I loved the author’s descriptive passages about the sea and the islands and I really enjoyed the stories of the selkies woven into the narrative. However, apart from the seventeen year old Flora, I felt that the characters were slightly stereotyped and some of the passages of direct speech were a bit stilted. Don’t let me put you off though! It’s a really good story, positively spooky in places, and kept this reader gripped to the end.

Irene Haynes

Published by Quercus – 368pp

THE VISITORS was the winner of the 2014 Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

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