The Visitors by Sally Beauman
Published by Abacus
15th January 2015
Under the tablecloth, Frances's hand reached for mine and clasped it. I knew what it meant, that clasp and the mischievous grateful glance that accompanied it: it meant I was thanked, that there were secrets here. I could accept that. I too had secrets - who doesn't?
Sent abroad to Egypt in 1922 to recover from the typhoid that killed her mother, eleven-year-old Lucy is caught up in the intrigue and excitement that surrounds the obsessive hunt for Tutankhamun's tomb. As she struggles to comprehend an adult world in which those closest to her are often cold and unpredictable, Lucy longs for a friend she can love. When she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist, her life is transformed. As the two girls spy on the grown-ups and try to understand the truth behind their evasions, a lifelong bond is formed.
Haunted by the ghosts of her past, the mistakes she made and the secrets she kept, Lucy disinters her past, trying to make sense of what happened all those years ago in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings. And for the first time in her life, she comes to terms with what happened after Egypt, when Frances needed Lucy most.
If you have been following this blog since the beginning, you will know that I'm a bit of an Egyptophile - I love a bit of Ancient Egypt, so when I saw that Sally Beauman's new book was to be set in Egypt during the 1920s, well I just had to get a copy and read it for myself.
Was it all I expected it to be though? In a nutshell, yes it was. The discovery by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon of the tomb of Tutankamun is still the greatest discovery of ancient Egyptian artefacts ever, and in 1922 it was huge news. The book is set both then, and today, as our narrator Lucy begins the book as a recovering eleven year old, and again as a elderly lady recalling the days she sent in Africa. There they happen to become aquainted with the inner circle of Carter and Carnarvon and of the growing intensity around the digging at the Valley of the Kings. There are a whole host of varying characters here, and I have to say, there were very three-dimensional and believable.
Sally Beauman has certainly done her research here, and intersperses both real-life characters with those of fiction and for me it was seamless. I was instantly drawn into the mystical and evocative world of Egypt and of its tombs and could certainly imagine myself to be there again. My only criticism, and it's a small one, is that there is no clear definition as to when each chapter is set; meaning sometimes I was slightly confused as to whether Lucy was talking about the 1920s or the present day, but it's a tiny flaw in what I think is a fantastic book.
Miss Chapter x