The Visitors by Caroline Scott – Esme lost her husband to war; can she rebuild her life even in a beautiful place?

The Visitors by Caroline Scott

A novel of beautiful, sometimes painful, descriptions of postwar emotions in Cornwall, this vividly written book features a woman torn by war, and immobilised by grief. Esme Nicholls has been suffering after she was told of her husband Alec’s death at the Front in the First World War, desperately trying to recapture the days of their brief courtship and short marriage. This novel expertly explores how she travels to Cornwall from Huddersfield to visit the places where her husband grew up, the sights he may have seen, the atmosphere of an existence before they met. Her work of writing nature notes for a local northern newspaper cleverly accounts for her close attention to the details of the natural setting of where she stays, and this is a book which luxuriates in the world of the flowers, creatures and beauty of Cornwall in summer. The people she meets by a strange quirk of fate are those who also served in the army of the trenches and forlorn hopes, one of whom has actually written an account of his experiences which is woven into the accounts of Esme’s progress in 1923. Here the writing is visceral, including painful accounts of the dangers and appalling conditions in the trenches.This book represents a masterclass in drawing a contrast between the beauties of the natural world and the hideous nature of countryside ravaged by war. It also explores the grief common to so many in the early postwar years, the unresolved plight of the women without a body to bury, even confirmation of death. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this brilliantly written book.  

As the book opens, Esme is travelling to Cornwall, realising “It was strange to know that she was finally in his county”. Having met Alec in the Huddersfield museum she was working in, she only knew him in a place he had travelled to; now she is seizing the opportunity to visit the place of his origin, desperate to catch some sense of the place he grew up, the sights he saw, the atmosphere that made him. She has studied his photograph carefully, kept so many memories, and dreamt of him. When she arrives at the large house owned by her employer’s brother Gilbert, she is taken aback at the casual welcome by these men marked by war, including the abrasively rude Sebastian and the silent Hal, who seems to have a certain insight. Rory is the practical one, the friendly man who seems to genuinely want to know her, offer his insights where wanted, and provide comfort in a sensitive way. It helps that he is attuned to the natural environment, understanding Esme’s interest in the birds and other creatures, supportive of her quietly written articles for a newspaper observing the flora and fauna. When her employer Mrs Pickering arrives she proves to be a demanding yet sympathetic character, and Esme can pursue her dreams of a vividly remembered husband. It is the arrival of a mysterious visitor that upsets Esme’s world, and leaves her wondering about her life. 

With exceptional characters well described and a vivid appreciation of the countryside of post war Cornwall, this is a memorable book in so many ways. The wartime accounts are confidently written, revealing a high level of research which nevertheless does not interrupt the narrative. This is the third book that I have read by this author, and as always I am overwhelmed by her depth of writing about those who fought and those who were left behind in the “Great War”. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in that difficult time period and the way it shaped so many lives.   

The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott – A book of lost and found in the First World War

 

A hauntingly beautiful book of the First World War and the immediate aftermath, this is a powerful novel of the missing. Told from two points of view, this is the story of Harry and Edie, brother and wife of the missing Francis. This novel is not only about the conditions in the trenches, the reality of warfare, but also the mysteries that were left behind. Of the three brothers that went to war, it is Harry who is on a mission to take photographs on behalf of the families and loved ones of those who did not return; photographs of graves, of places where men were last seen alive, of places important to the lost men. Edie is one of so many women who saw their husbands go to war, only to discover that he changed before they ultimately disappeared. There are so many questions about the men who did not return, so many requests for photographs, that a theme of unresolved grief dominates the story. As Harry tries to deal with his memories and his feelings, this novel draws pictures of villages destroyed and lives changed forever. This book is a brilliantly written evocation of a world changed, of loss and memory, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book in advance of its publication. 

 

The book opens with Edie receiving a photograph. The anonymous envelope gives no clues as to the origin of an image which could show her husband, who was listed as missing several years before 1921. Harry is now a photographer who represents Mr Lee, whose advertisement is reproduced. For those who have lost loved ones, Harry will take photographs of graves and special places. People unable to actually visit are given a memento of what is left. Harry’s progress around the graves which vary from the hurriedly dug to the carefully designed is marked by his memories of travelling to the trenches himself with Francis and William, his older and younger brothers. He had sketched and tried to capture what he saw, put down the difficult and impossible to comprehend. Meanwhile Edie is searching for answers, as to what happened to the man who she loved, the way he changed. She can see in Harry aspects of her husband, a more than sympathetic friend. Harry encounters people who have their own challenges, their own feelings to cope with, and tries to reconstruct the buildings and experiences which have changed his own life.

 

This is an almost painfully beautiful book, full of unresolved feelings, love and other emotions which come to dominate the narrative. The dialogue between the characters, especially the brothers, is an amusing aspect of a book which revels in the creation of memorable characters. Brilliantly researched, this is a novel to treasure for the depth of feelings it evokes, for the atmosphere of a landscape blighted by a total war, and the whisps of hope that remain for men unseen for so long. This is a book which will be well worth seeking out, and worth treasuring for its creation of a world destroyed, but worth rebuilding.   

 

As for the giveaway, well, to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the proof of this wonderful book, just comment on this post below. Remember to leave details of how I can contact you please!  This book is not due to be published until the 31st October, so you would be well ahead. So why not try your luck? Many thanks to the lovely Anne Cater who has organised this tour  and will sort out the winner from the comments below!