Author: Sally Beauman
Provided Synopsis: In 1922, when eleven year-old Lucy is sent to Egypt to recuperate from typhoid, she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist. The friendship draws the impressionable young girl into the thrilling world of Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter, who are searching for the tomb of boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.
A haunting tale of love and loss, The Visitors retells the legendary story of Carter and Carnarvon’s hunt and their historical discovery, witnessed through the eyes of a vulnerable child whose fate becomes entangled in their dramatic quest. As events unfold, Lucy will discover the lengths some people will go to fulfill their deepest desires—and the lies that become the foundation of their lives.
Intensely atmospheric, The Visitors recalls the decadence of Egypt’s aristocratic colonial society, and illuminates the obsessive, daring men willing to risk everything—even their sanity—to claim a piece of the ancient past. As fascinating today as it was nearly a century ago, the search for King Tut’s tomb is made vivid and immediate in Sally Beauman’s skilled hands. A dazzling feat of imagination, The Visitors is a majestic work of historical fiction.
Review: Now that I have read The Visitors it is easy to see why it has so many mixed reviews. Therefore, I will try to break down the good and the bad of this book in order to help you determine if this is a story you want to invest your time in.
Egypt is The Visitors at its best. Through the eyes of Lucy, aged eleven then twelve, the facts mingle with the fiction to convey the events in the Valley of the Kings when Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. I thought the author did a fantastic job to place her readers within this environment, with the atmospheric element of the story coming across even more so through the eyes of Lucy’s initial innocence. Her age allows her to look in wonder at what is around her; she can observe the silences that are often lost on the stressed adults, and as she matures she begins to take notice of many different nuances within the relationships of the historical figures around her. The Egyptian sections of this book could have easily become a droll history lesson if it were not for Lucy and her friend, Frances; the two of them allow this piece of archeological history to soar.
As for the bad… I would consider everything else in this book to fall within different stages of that category. Rather than solely be a book about what happened in the Valley of the Kings, Beauman decided to follow Lucy home to England and on snippets of her journey throughout life. At first, I did not view this in a negative light; it seemed important to know what Lucy was up to during her months away from Egypt to see how she would be shaped to view things differently upon her return. But then I began to realize the plot of this book was all over this place, with no clear climax to tie together the multiple plot lines the story held. What was even more unfortunate was that many of these plot lines led to nowhere and where never mentioned again — this meant, in many cases, that there was no conclusion. In addition, the relationships between Lucy and the numerous characters in her life were unclear at nearly all times. What was the nature of her relationship with Nicola? Why was Nicola described in shadows? How was the dissolution of her first marriage finally achieved? What was Rose trying to ask her? How did love suddenly materialize between two characters seemingly out of the blue? What about Miss Mack’s book?
In the end I came to the conclusion that Lucy was not a very reliable narrator. Her recollections of her time in Egypt were the only things that were clear. Otherwise, her closed-off nature did not allow for a conclusive ending to be told to the many threads of plot her mind would grasp onto and present to the reader. It made for a frustrating ending, and one that also left me so wonder, so what?