Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Visitors - Rebecca Mascull - Review & Author Q&A

Today I am reviewing The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull, and I'm delighted to also welcome  the author herself to the blog in an interview below! 

My review

'I know there is a land that surrounds me, but always lies just beyond my grasp. I feel its constant presence through everything everyone else can do and I cannot.'

The Visitors is an intelligent, imaginative and beautifully written debut novel which I found absorbing and really enjoyed reading. The author has created a wonderful, convincing narrator in Liza, a young deaf-blind girl, and by telling the story in her voice almost throughout, we are drawn deeply, vividly into her unique world and able to share in all that she can, and cannot, be part of: 

'...I cannot imagine comprehending an object through anything but the feel of it, the shape, the weight, the texture and the space it inhabits. Does all this also come through sight, or is it something so different it cannot be conceptualised, as different from touch as smell is? Another country, another language, another arena of sensation? I ache for it.'

I found this a captivating read that I was eager to continue with. It was a pleasure and a joy to read because of the way the reader could share so closely in Liza’s joy as she discovers more of the world around her through the use of finger spelling with Lottie, and then in other ways as things change further for her than she could have hoped. 

Lottie is a hop picker working for Liza's father, and in her Liza finds a very dear and devoted friend, the way they are together is heartwarming, with Lottie patient and kind. Liza finds love and friendship amongst Lottie's family too, with her brother Caleb's letters from the Boer war in the second half of the book adding further shape and historical context to the narrative. Liza has a loving father, their closeness was wonderful and I was glad she had this relationship, as, at least at first, her mother was too weak to be there for her. 

With the Visitors, the ghostly apparitions seen by Liza when she closes her eyes, and with whom she can communicate in her mind, the author adds another dimension to Liza's experiences and to the tale. I liked the significance of the role they played towards the end of the novel, though of course I won't write more about that here so that I don't spoil the story. The descriptions of the Kent hop fields, the oyster beds, and the Boer war are vivid and evocative. The book has a very attractive cover design, too. 

What I think I liked most of all was that Rebecca Mascull makes us see anew through Liza’s eyes much of the wonder in the world around us every day, and made this reader think about appreciating it all, and not taking things for granted. 

For me this was a very engaging, moving and atmospheric story of devoted, wonderful friendship, first love and attraction, of travel, adventure and war, and of ghostly visitors. I looked forward to getting back to it every time I had to put it down, and I read it in only a few sittings. An impressive debut.

Thanks to amazon vine for a review copy of this novel. 

Author links twitter @RebeccaMascull  | tumblr
Published by Hodder & Stoughton 

Q & A with Rebecca Mascull

Q. The Visitors is set in the late 19th/early 20th Century. What prompted you to set the tale at this point in history? Was this a period you already knew about, was there a lot of research involved?

When I decided to portray a deaf-blind child and her education, I wanted to set this at a point in history where she was facing a huge struggle against the odds. I didn't want her to necessarily be the first to do this - as there are well-documented real-life cases such as Helen Keller that have already covered that ground - but certainly at an early stage, so that essentially my character would be seen as an idiot before she had learned to communicate effectively - that is, until she learned language.
I didn't know much about the late Victorian/early Edwardian period at all - yet that was part of the challenge for me, and indeed, part of the fun! I love to learn and having an excuse to read lots of history books, visit old houses and inhabit another era is part of what I love about being a novelist. In his novel 'The Go-Between', L. P. Hartley writes: 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' So true. And anyone who knows me well will tell you that I do inhabit another country in my head much of the time, and that I do live in the past! I like many things about the modern world - mostly its convenience and some of its technology - but my heart resides in history.

Q. Have you wanted to write about a deafblind character for a long time or did the idea come to you quite recently?

I was lucky enough to work with deaf students about twenty years ago and was hooked on the idea of writing about deafness, as it is such a fascinating area of study. There are theories about the differences between the deaf brain and the hearing brain, as well as so much to consider when it comes to the structure and nature of sign language and how it compares to spoken and written language. I also saw a TV movie about Helen Keller as a child and tried very hard to imagine what it must feel like to have no sight and no hearing. These influences stayed with me and when I came to decide on this project, they came together and insisted they be written!

Q. I felt like Liza was very convincing, that you got inside her head and really showed how things were for her. How easy was it to write Liza's character and write about the way she experiences the world?

I'm so glad you felt that about Liza. It was difficult at first to imagine her world, particularly before she could see. I had to shut off the two senses I tend to use most when writing. I made lots of errors in early drafts where I forgot that she couldn't hear, and had her turning towards sounds and all sorts! So it was a big learning curve. I also had to embrace my sense of smell, which for me is not particularly good, and imagine how it would be to live through touch and smell primarily. It wasn't easy, but for me writing about myself or people similar to me would be dull. One of my motivations in writing is to escape, I suppose! The same as my motivation in reading or watching movies or engaging in any sort of narrative. So I do like to explore people in different times and lives and experiences, different to myself, that is. That's one of the joys of writing novels, for me.

Q. I loved the way Liza made me appreciate things that I can see and do, is there anything in particular that you appreciated anew as you were writing her character?

That's a super question. In the early chapters, before she can see, I tried hard not to pity her. She didn't pity herself as she didn't understand the pathos of her own condition. And even once she did understand, I think it just made her more determined to push forwards. This made me think the next time I was whining about some minor problem or inconvenience I'd had to put up with and made me tell myself, just shut up, Mascull: you've got NOTHING to complain about! 

Q. When is your favourite time of day to write, or do you just write as and when you can, whatever time it is?

I do have a routine, which these days is largely dictated by the school day and holidays. Thus, I write from 9.30 to 2.30, 5 days a week during term times and don't do much writing at weekends or in school holidays. However, I get a lot of research reading and note-taking done out of school hours, whenever I can fit it in: in the bath, in the evenings, while I'm waiting for my daughter after school or during clubs. In a perfect writer's world, I'd write all day from 9 - 5 in an empty house while it's snowing outside; there's something about the silence snow creates which is very conducive to writing. But who wants to live in a perfect world? That'd be dreary.

Q. Are you writing a second novel, and if so can you share anything about it yet?

Actually I've just finished writing my next novel. I don't have a title yet to share with you (I'll let you know as soon as I do!), but I can tell you a bit of what it's about. It's set in the C18th, where an orphan girl is educated through a benefactor. She becomes a scientist - or as they were called back then, a Natural Philosopher - she travels abroad and makes a remarkable discovery... It has various themes, of the sea, of love and war, of poverty and the position of women; and it was a joy to write. I enjoyed the C18th hugely. I'm about to get cracking on the line edit and I'm looking forward to diving back into its world, and particularly the C18th, which was chaotic and a little bit scary, but hugely entertaining! The novel is due for publication around this time next year. 

Q. Can you recommend a book or two you've enjoyed reading this year/or a couple of favourite books?

Ooh, good question. One of my favourites in the last year was 'Where D'You Go Bernadette?' by Maria Semple. From the rather gaudy cover, I didn't expect to like it at all, and I only read it because my lovely editor at Hodder gave it to me. But it was brilliant - very, very funny and thought-provoking and full of interesting stuff - such as Antarctica, where I've always wanted to go - and also things I could totally relate to, like the pressures of the school run, for example. I couldn't put it down, and that doesn't happen for me much any more. Sadly, reading novels can become a bit of a busman's holiday for me at times. I have to really be grabbed by a book to carry on reading after the first 30 pages, let alone finish it. I find myself over-analysing novels too much, and if any of the cracks show I end up tearing it to shreds in my head and get thrown way out of that necessary suspension of disbelief. So when I find one I can't stop reading and get lost in and don't remember I'm actually reading a constructed novel written by someone...well, I get terribly excited! Old favourites include anything by Salinger; The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Atwood's The Blind Assassin; Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain; most of Amy Tan's early novels - the ones about China and sisters and mothers; and then odd, quirky ones like The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. One of the best writers around right now I believe is Marilynne Robinson; the quality of her prose is so far above the rest of us, it's terrifying - and inspiring. 

Q. As a published debut novelist, are there any particular tips you'd give to aspiring writers?

You do have to possess a kind of stubborn determination to carry on, I think. There will be many obstacles in your way, including your own insecurity. There will be many gatekeepers saying No Entry. You have to find ways around and past these, including using charm, side-stepping and sheer bloody-mindedness to keep going and going, improving your writing, picking yourself up from rejections and criticisms and downright hatchet jobs of your work. Somewhere inside there needs to be a kernel of self-belief, that your work is good, that you can make it better every time you sit down to write, and that one day you will find the readers who 'get' you, the ones that say, Yes, I know what you're trying to say and I like it! It may take years and years of trying, but if you get enough signs and signals from the world that what you're doing is good, then you must keep going, you simply must. I wish every writer on this journey the best, as it's not an easy road to travel. But I wouldn't choose any other path.


Thank you so much, Rebecca, for being on my blog today! 

Here's a glimpse of the paperback cover design for The Visitors, to be published on July 18th 2014.


  1. Thank you Lindsay and Rebecca, a very interesting interview, I have this to read - it sounds an intriguing story.

  2. Great review Lindsay. One of my favourite reads of 2014 as you know, I agree with everything you said.

    And what a fascinating interview with Rebecca, I really enjoyed the questions and answers. Wonderful paperback cover as well, I think its every bit as appealing as the hardback cover though perhaps without that air of mystery.

  3. I have heard a lot about this book. It sounds very good and very creatively written.

    Great interview! Lots of interesting tidbits included, I am particularly interested in how these novels set in the past are researched.

  4. A lovely book and a great interview. You found some interesting questions and Rebecca answered them well.

  5. Loved the interview and the books sounds quite fascinating...It sounds pretty appealing to me!


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