My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
ABOUT THE BOOK
Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything. Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own. As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything. The Night Visitor is a compelling exploration of ambition, morality and deception that asks the question: how far would you go to save your reputation?
WHAT I THOUGHT
Lucy Atkins has created a piece of work that is captivating, thought-provoking and an absolute pleasure to read. ‘Description’ is the key word here when it comes to us learning about two very different characters; Olivia and Vivian, and Lucy has it spot on. The way she intricately sets the story with Vivian of how it all began, is clever and straight away I was led to think that, although Olivia is the lead character as she is the author of the book and Vivian is the research assistant, Vivian actually holds all the power. We straight away learn about Vivian’s “nightly visitor” which turns out to be a reoccurring nightmare she has had since she was a child. We later discover that Olivia also suffers with the same sort of problem but in her case she thinks it is a stalker.
Vivian comes across as an old battle-axe who is very much set in her own ways and as a result doesn’t like change – but what lengths would she go to, to make sure things stay the same? She is a completely unapproachable character and a quote I distinctly remember describes Vivian perfectly; “her square face was blank… she looked dense and forbidding”. She is definitely a very clever lady though, quick off the mark and there is a certain smugness to her too. Although I do feel sorry for her as the recent loss of her partner-in-crime, Bertie the dog, has definitely affected her.
Olivia on the other hand leads a very busy life, extremely academic and family oriented, working hard on both her career and raising her three children. She comes across as a very confident lady which adds to her attractiveness. Writing such a bestselling book though has obviously had its toll on her – but why? Her marriage is under strain which we later learn is due to financial difficulties due to David, her husband’s, stupidity. I think there is something more underlying here though than just money problems.
I loved the way each chapter is a different point of view of both Olivia and Vivian, and quite often there are memories of what has happened in the past either to themselves individually or as a result of their friendship (although this certainly isn’t a friendship through choice for Olivia). It is a set up I love in a book when you need to completely understand two very complex characters.
You may wonder why there is a dung beetle on the front cover? It is a central theme throughout the book and is due to an association with Olivia’s deceased father who was an expert in the field of dung beetles. He made a huge discovery when he was still alive and named a particular beetle after Olivia; ‘Archaeocopris Olivia’. Olivia touches upon the subject at one point with Vivian that after her father died, somebody tried to discredit him in his research but after a bit of a battle they were proved incorrect and the subject was dropped.
Vivian certainly lures after Olivia, not in a sexual way, but in an obsessive, sort of sinister way. Especially when she follows Vivian on her holiday to the South of France with the intention of talking to her about a new book idea – could it not wait? Apparently not, it would seem that Olivia is avoiding her. The holiday does end abruptly though as Olivia confronts Vivian as to why she is there and ends up confessing that she knows how Bertie, Vivian’s dog, died. Emotions ran high and then the next morning Olivia’s daughter wakes up screaming as her hair has been cut off by someone in the night – but who?
The narrative is very fluent, and even humorous in some parts which brings a certain amount of light heartedness to this dark thriller. A good amount of legwork has gone into researching the different elements of the book from the Victorian era through to dung beetles. It is a very detailed, layered tale with an aspect of “what goes around comes around”. The ending is tremendous with a glorious twist.
I would very much like to see a sequel come from this! I would highly recommend it.
Huge thank you to Quercus Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
My final word: Mesmerising