It’s Christmas Eve, and as the snow falls outside Mrs. Langstrum’s windows, she sits in the dark, waiting for her husband. When he comes home, he’ll fix the power and fill the cupboards with food, but, as the evening draws on, Mrs. Langstrum begins to shiver. She has just decided to ask her neighbours for some help with the power, when there is a knock at the door. Outside, on Mrs. Langstrum’s doorstep, stands a stranger.
Over the course of the evening, Mrs. Langstrum is forced to listen to the stranger as he tells her the curious tale of his childhood. Meanwhile, she begins to reveal more about herself, opening up to the man as though she has known him all her life. The more they talk, the more they begin to understand one another, and, as Christmas Day dawns, their relationship blossoms into a state of mutual understanding. The man may have begun as a stranger, but by the next morning, he is a friend.
The Visitor is a curious novella. The story is told through a number of layered narratives that constantly overlap one another; even as Mrs. Langstrum listens to the stranger, he relays stories that were told to him as a child. This unusual style can make The Visitor a little difficult to follow, yet it adds a layer of depth to the story that contributes to the sense of mystery that runs throughout the novella.
Unfortunately, despite some interesting narrative techniques, the mystery, itself, left a lot to be desired; only after I finished the novella, did I realise that there was an overarching ‘twist’ designed to tie the story together. Unfortunately, this ‘twist’ was so obvious that I assumed the outcome from the very first hint. In fact, I assumed readers were meant to make this assumption, and so at the big ‘reveal’ at the end of the novella, I felt a little confused and disappointed. After all, the ending didn’t come as a surprise. If it had, I may have been able to appreciate the story a lot more… but I did, and that suggests this ‘twist’ was made a little too obvious, particularly towards the beginning of the story.
This seems to be a running theme in The Visitor; for the most part, it is well written, but the plot is not always executed in the best manner. The author uses some extremely descriptive writing to bring the story to life, but it seems as though they sometimes become lost within their own writing, and, amid some truly beautiful descriptions, the plot is often lost. This is a shame, as I think there was a lot of potential in this novella. The idea was there – as was the writing – but not enough time had been taken to make sure the plot tied together (and was easy to follow).
The Visitor simply isn’t what you expect from a contemporary drama – particularly a novella of so few pages – modern audiences aren’t used to having to work so hard to uncover the plot of a story: in most modern books, the plot is coherent, even if the rest of the narrative is quite complex. In fact, I would argue that this plot is much harder to understand than those in a lot of classics – even Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which is one of the most complex books I have ever read.
There were aspects of The Visitor that I enjoyed, but, for the most part, it came across as confusing, extremely slow-building, and, overall, it seemed like wasted potential.
Thanks for reading! For those of you who are following my February 2019 reading challenge, this was the second book I wanted to read before the end of the month, which means that I only have six more books to go!
You can click here for an A-Z list of all my reviews (so far)!