Originally written in the 1940s, The Visitor is a novella about a young woman named Anastasia, who returns to Ireland after living in Paris for six years. When she arrives, her Grandmother – Mrs King, greets her with a cool manner and instead of finding a welcoming home, is faced with the realisation that she is considered a ‘visitor’.
I’m not quite sure what I feel about The Visitor. I enjoyed the way that the novel had an element of suspense about it. Brennan builds an unsettling atmosphere with curious characters who either keep a cold reserve (Mrs King) or who are, at the other end of the scale, overwhelmingly emotional with an undertone of desperation (Miss Kilbride). Like Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley, the house appeared at times to have it’s own creepy personality. Despite, the suspenseful start, I was a bit baffled by the ending because I couldn’t decide if it was really quite disturbing or a bit of a let down. I think that I was expecting something more dramatic, whereas the drama is really all in the psychology of the novel and the way that Anastasia feels and the other characters respond to her.
I think that there is also an important element of the reader’s perspective. The Grandmother is portrayed as a monstrous person, but perhaps this is because we experience everything from Anastasia’s point of view. There is clearly an important piece of the puzzle missing – it is implied that Anastasia’s mother and the Grandmother were always at odds and that Mrs King was an unhealthy influence on the family. That said, is Anastasia, or more to the point her understanding of the situation reliable or not?
At certain points in the novella, I found my empathy for Anastasia faded. She seemed to be missing some vital spark of self-preservation. This frustrated me, but possibly being a woman who has grown up in a modern-world, makes it harder to relate, and I suppose Brennan isn’t exactly trying to portray a heroine – but a situation and a impression of Anastasia’s circumstances.
I couldn’t help but compare Brennan’s style to that of Barbara Comyns, who was writing during a similar period. I think she teases out the nastier elements of human behaviour in a more disturbing way and somehow her quirky writing packs more of a punch. The Visitor was an interesting and clever piece of writing but it felt incomplete, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.
For a different perspective, you might like to read Savidge Reads’ review who in contrast to me appreciated the lack of drama, but was also a little non-plussed by the ending and also this glowing review at Reading Matters which also adds some useful context about the author.
Have you read this or any of Brennan’s other writing and would you recommend reading more?