The Visitors – Scottish Hebrides – Simon Sylvester

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This book brings the mythical and creepy nature of the Scottish islands to life. Best to read at night under the covers with a torch for the full effect. If it’s foggy out so much the better!

Story in a nutshell

The remote Scottish island of Bancree is a strange and eerie place. No one would choose to live there yet few who do, fail to leave. So when a man and his daughter arrive at the isolated Dog Cottage, people start to talk. Then when a few of the inhabitants of the island start to go missing, things really start to get weird. Seventeen year old Flo wants to investigate – she befriends the new girl. When a body washes up on shore, the newcomers are the first to be suspected but Flo is convinced that someone or something else is to blame…

Place and setting

Bancree has been inspired by many places in Scotland
Bancree has been inspired by many places in Scotland

The island of Bancree may be fictional yet it is evocative of many islands in and around the Hebrides. Places such as Gigha, Islay and Culloden all provide the inspiration for Bancree according to the author on his website and we have to agree. Wester Inshes is another place mentioned for the view and island landscape. Oh and the island with the great name of Yell. Yet this is what is so fascinating about the book and its mythical setting – the themes within are so mythical and eerie that you might be pleased the real place does not exist. Still, you can get a real sense of the unique remoteness and community feel that the Scottish highlands still has.

Grogport on the Kintyre peninsula  was an early inspiration for Simon and if you want a further feel for the Bancree and its history then this is  a must see on any booktrail for The Visitors.

Then there is the cover – creepy, dark, eerie and enticing all at once. Once you open the cover and step on to the island, be very afraid…

Now who would like to go to Bancree?
Now who would like to go to Bancree?

Well the book had me at the cover. Where was this place? What was it called? Who lived there? Why did it look so creepy and surrounded by birds? I wanted to go to this island but felt wary at the same time as to what I will find there. So I opened the cover and braced myself for the ferry ride over to Bancree.

With the wind howling around me and the rain pelting on to my face, I knew that the journey was going to be as eerie and creepy as the island itself. As I arrived and got to know the island, I was captivated – not only by the understanding that few people ever left but by the mythology and history of Scottish islands I learned along the way.

What I had in my hands was one of the most atmospheric and unique novels that I’ve read in a long while. The island of Bancree is just like it is drawn on the cover. with a sense of foreboding, I took very careful and slow steps at first as you never know what you are going to find. I was in the dark in more ways that one.

I felt for Flo who wanted to leave the island and feels abandoned by her boyfriend who does. Then when she meets the new girl and feels that there is something now quite right, I wanted to know too. the tension builds nicely and it was unique to see all this unfolding under the eyes of a young island girl.

This is ultimately  a novel of many layers – just what is going on with the missing people? is something mythical to blame? There is talk of something almost haunting the island but I wont say more for fear of spoiling the reveal. There is of course a criminal element to this novel – especially when the body turns up, but its not a crime novel -its the story of the island and of its people and the islands past. don’t let the aspect of mythical happenings put you off – I knew little about this but have really been gripped with what I have learned in this book. captivating! and a way to really understand this part of the world. The culture and stories that people tell show you who and what they are.

If I could describe this book in a few words – atmospheric, atmospheric and atmospheric. You will see Bancree come alive before your eyes, you will see the cottages and the rocks and Dog island. And like Bancree itself, it draws you in across the shimmery water, calm on the surface but be careful of what is going on underneath. Once you’ve been to Bancree, you will not be able to leave. and that is a particularly apt description for the island and for the book.

Addictive.

3 thoughts on “The Visitors – Scottish Hebrides – Simon Sylvester

  1. I’ve got this in the TBR – mainly because most of the ferries to the Inner Hebrides (and several Outer Hebrides!) leave from the town where I live – in fact, I was brought up on a farm on the Isle of Mull (so no wonder I ended up a bookstore – there wasn’t much else to do! Well, I was too young to drink…!) The Ice Twins, which I loved, also appealed for the same reason. Yell is a great name, but it’s in Shetland, which has some fabulous place names because of the Norse history – some places almost sound more Scandinavian than Scottish. I’d love to go there – my friend Rachael lives in a wee village called Brae. Yes, I can see this one definitely moving up the TBR pile rapidly – thanks for the reminder!

  2. I’m really looking forward to reading it now. I should of course have said “bookworm” – predictive text hell ! – Although with the weight I put on over the winter perhaps it was a Freudian slip!

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