Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Visitors by Sally Beauman

The Visitors
By Sally Beauman
Published by Little, Brown Book Group (15 January 2015 Paperback)
ISBN: 978-0751551679

Publisher's description
Under the tablecloth, Frances's hand reached for mine and clasped it. I knew what it meant, that clasp and the mischievous grateful glance that accompanied it: it meant I was thanked, that there were secrets here. I could accept that. I too had secrets - who doesn't? 
Sent abroad to Egypt in 1922 to recover from the typhoid that killed her mother, eleven-year-old Lucy is caught up in the intrigue and excitement that surrounds the obsessive hunt for Tutankhamun's tomb. As she struggles to comprehend an adult world in which those closest to her are often cold and unpredictable, Lucy longs for a friend she can love. When she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist, her life is transformed. As the two girls spy on the grown-ups and try to understand the truth behind their evasions, a lifelong bond is formed.
Haunted by the ghosts of her past, the mistakes she made and the secrets she kept, Lucy disinters her past, trying to make sense of what happened all those years ago in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings. And for the first time in her life, she comes to terms with what happened after Egypt, when Frances needed Lucy most.
My verdict
I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I loved the story and setting of this book, with its vivid descriptions of 1920s Egypt and the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. I was transported back in time, able to picture the sights, smell the aromas and hear the sounds, as an elderly Lucy reminisced about her experiences in Egypt as a young girl.

The book touches on the 1920s politics of archaeology in Egypt and the ownership of the contents of the tombs. But ultimately it is a love story - between several of the main characters and Egypt's history and treasures. There were also some complex relationships, particularly that between Lucy and her governess/step-mother Nicola Dunsire, which was hard to fathom.  

While I give the book four out of five stars for its historical content and storyline, I did feel that, on occasion, reading the book felt like a chore, with unnecessary detail and a need for stricter editing. At 544 pages, it was a very long read. And at times, it seemed to go off on a tangent, with long passages about shopping expeditions, for example. Descriptions of Egypt gave the book its charm, but some long descriptions about other locations, especially in England, did become tedious and unnecessary. A couple of times I thought about giving up, yet I found myself wanting to finish the book simply to find out what happened to some of the key characters.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting and emotional read and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, as long as they are prepared for a long journey to get to the end.


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