Published: 4th May 2017
Started reading: October 27
Finished reading: November 2
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.
One of the first books I read in 2018 was Lucy Atkins’ previous book, The Other Child. I liked it a lot, so quickly added this one to my TBR and it became one of my most anticipated reads. Having finished it, I can say that although it is superbly written and presents a very interesting and original concept, it did not totally live up to my expectations.
This is a much different type of thriller to many of the others I have read. Firstly, it is generally slow-paced at the beginning, to the extent that it took a little bit of time for me to fully grasp the plot. Secondly, it covers in detail some very abstract and specialist topics which you would not normally come across in this genre. Finally, and most strikingly of all, it often acts as an in-depth character study.
Specifically, two characters. The story alternates between the point of view of Olivia (third-person) and Vivian (first person). They are both compelling in their own way, and their interactions were fun and interesting to read. For a professor, Olivia was at times frustratingly naive, and there are other flaws to her character that the book does not hide away from.
Vivian is one of the most unusual characters I have ever come across. She is obsessive and very idiosyncratic, but also shrewd and observant. Almost every chapter she narrated felt like a dramatic monologue. Rightly or wrongly, I sometimes found myself sympathising with her because of her loneliness, as I spent most of book wondering if she was good or bad. In fact, I still do not know!
There are a number of secondary characters, but none of them are well developed enough and as such, they add very little to the book. The main reason for this is that so much time is devoted to Olivia and Vivian, and it felt like they were the only two characters that really seemed to matter.
One of the biggest issues I had with this book was the structure. It just felt a little bit confused, and there were times where I essentially read the same passage twice, told from the perspective of one character and then the other. The pacing early on was also disappointing, although it definitely improved as it went on.
Another problem was the ending. It was way too sudden and abrupt, and left some questions left unanswered, which I felt were important in the context of the story. It was almost like I reached the end of the book and there were pages missing!
On the bright side, it is very well written and sophisticated, and I could tell that a lot of effort and research had gone into this book. Lucy Atkins captures Vivian perfectly as a troubled, complex character. She is also a very good author when it comes to building tension and suspense.
Overall, this is a book that offers an intriguing concept, something that burns slowly into a tense, evocative read. I admire many things about it, but structure, pacing and the abrupt ending weigh it down a little. Still, I was kept interested right up until the last page.
The Night Visitor is a sophisticated study of two characters, written superbly with sinister undertones. Lucy Atkins is a fine author and delivers some great things here, but I just wish some aspects were a little better.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐