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.
Full of light, laughter and larger-than-life characters, The Visitors is a novel of one woman finally finding her voice and choosing her own path forwards.
I adored Caroline’s last two books as they contain so many of my favourite aspects of a satisfying read: they have plenty of real-life events woven through them and readers of my column know that I often go off to try and find out as much as possible about the people living at the time of characters that I’ve fallen in love with after finishing a book I’ve loved, as I get so caught up in the story. When I Come Home Again was just as satisfying and beautifully written as The Photographer of the Lost and I was so excited when The Visitors dropped through my letterbox as I was looking for another wonderfully immersive period read. I can assure you that I was not disappointed and I think it is now actually my favourite book out of the three – but more on that below!
Caroline Scott’s latest novel just proves that she is one of my absolute favourites in historical fiction for me with a nuance and elegance to her writing that is extremely hard to find elsewhere. This is another heartwrenchingly emotional and beautiful read with every element of it and its depiction of loss, sacrifice and grief absolutely pitch-perfect. I absolutely loved hearing about Esperance and found myself visiting it alongside Esme and getting to know the stories of its inhabitants as we uncover her own. Perhaps the fact that I read it at a time where we at school were remembering the stories of our own fallen which made it an extra poignant read for me but at times I felt overwhelmed with emotional all the stories of the boys who came home, yet sometimes wished they lay in France with their fallen brothers…
The Visitors is a beautifully evocative and heartbreaking read at times, it is written in such a skilful way that allows Caroline Scott to deploy all of her historical research without ever losing sight of the fact that in a novel we have to care about the characters that we are reading about and we never falter for a second in this regard. I am lost in admiration for her skill in bringing this period to life so authentically and making us feel like we are these right alongside them– Esme’s story is impossible not to get emotionally caught up in and I even dreamed about Esperance, I was so immersed in this story. The fact that you know that Caroline Scott has based this all on her impeccable research into this period in history makes it all the more poignant and I am desperate for our book group to start up again next year as I think that this would make for the perfect read to get us all engaged, talking and caught up in the sorrow, loss and heartbreak of this tale as we hear from Esme and Rory whose tales intertwine and lead us through the multi-faceted idea of loss as it existed in Britain after the war had ceased – but still hadn’t ended for so many soldiers, families and loved ones.
I absolutely love it when my own world and the world of a book that I am reading with collide. It was amazing to read Esme’s story when we have been looking at the women in my school’s history that sent their husbands off to be killed in the Boer War and then found themselves in the heartbreaking situation of having their sons come of age at the onset of WW1 and many of them losing them too. The story of how the war affected everyone, not just the soldiers who fought in it is a very important one and one that really captured my imagination and my emotions as I read it.
What Caroline Scott does that affected me so much was never to make me feel like she is using her characters to make a point. Instead, the things that you think about and become moved, upset and saddened by are as a consequence of the story, not the other way round. Her sensitivity and respect for the past are written into the fabric of the text and I absolutely loved every moment of it – this is the very definition of a satisfying read and if you haven’t bought a copy yet, it has to be next on your Winter book shopping list.
If you can, head to your nearest independent bookstore or to their online website and get your hands on a copy as soon as you can. I love Caroline’s writing and can’t stop singing her praises.
It would be an absolutely wonderful gift for someone – I’m sure that they’ll love it just as much as I did.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, take a look at what these other fantastic fellow bloggers think
Writer On The Shelf
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.