Book Review: 'The Visitors' by Catherine Burns

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Cover photo of Catherine Burns' 'The Visitors': featuring a figure at the top of a dark staircase with the subtitle "Can you escape the darkness within?"

Despised by her neighbours and with no particular aspirations of her own, Marion lives in a six-bedroom ageing and neglected house, content with her daytime films and soaps, her sweet treats, and her evening meals with her surly brother. Although she harbours secret desires to love and be loved, she prefers her own company -- particularly when interfering neighbours begin looking into things that don't concern them.

Initially, the writing seemed a little dense but instead of drawing you in with fine tendrils, Catherine Burns envelops the reader, almost smothering them. That is Marion, that is the house: oppressive, dreary, and yet with something dark and ominous residing in the silt.

Middle-aged Marion is a pitiful character with no talents or hobbies. Her childhood is characterised by indifference: overshadowed by her brother and bullied by her peers for being plain, fat, and dull. "She spent entire lessons worrying that she might break wind, make gurgly tummy noises, or sneeze in a weird way." She's the awkward child we can all sympathise with, and as an adult we feel sorry for her whilst recognising that it would be difficult to befriend her.

Even though nothing is happening I was anticipating both the slow reveals and a sudden burst of violence. Marion has secrets to keep that are not her own, but when circumstances change she is forced into making her own decisions for once -- and her choices could have terrible consequences.

The ending is a triumph for the characters, and not in the typical dramatic and violence-fuelled climax that we expect from thrillers -- but it comes at an expense that is genuinely chilling. A veteran of thrillers and straight-up horror novels, I didn't expect this book to unnerve me as much as it did, perhaps because the protagonist's resolution was so conflicting.

The Visitors was a pleasant surprise that might not reveal any unanticipated twists and turns -- but it does dig into your brain and linger there.

Catherine Burns is on Twitter at @C_Burnzi.

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