The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
2nd January 2014
Imagine if you couldn't see couldn't hear couldn't speak...Then one day somebody took your hand and opened up the world to you. Adeliza Golding is a deafblind girl, born in late Victorian England on her father's hop farm. Unable to interact with her loving family, she exists in a world of darkness and confusion; her only communication is with the ghosts she speaks to in her head, who she has christened the Visitors. One day she runs out into the fields and a young hop-picker, Lottie, grabs her hand and starts drawing shapes in it. Finally Liza can communicate. Her friendship with her teacher and with Lottie's beloved brother Caleb leads her from the hop gardens and oyster beds of Kent to the dusty veldt of South Africa and the Boer War, and ultimately to the truth about the Visitors. Rebecca Mascull's first novel is the tale of a wonderful friendship, but it is also a thrilling adventure, a heartbreaking love story and a compelling ghost story.
My name is Adeliza Golding. I am born breech and nearly kill Mother. I hear muffled scrams from within the dark warmth of her belly and kick my feet to rid her of me. I enter the world in a flood of fluid and blood, pulled by the hands of Doctor. When I cry out and open my eyes I see a grey blur. Within it crowds a host of faces; pale and curious, they whisper and nod. This is my first meeting with the Visitors.
Mother has suffered five who died inside her before me. I am the miracle who survived. But my eyes are wrong. I can see something placed before me, but little beyond that. I learn to listen and touch, so well that I can discern Father from Nanny from Doctor from Mother from Stranger by the click of the door and the pressure of heel on rug. The Visitors make no sound in movement, but I hear their voices. I am a good little talker, saying new words as a fish lays eggs.
When I am nearly two, the fever comes. A heat like boiling soup. My ears are inflamed and leak pus. Father's voice. Always Father, always close. Nanny's voice too, and the Doctor's, all grow faint and I think they whisper to spare me discomfort. But, fade away they do, to nothingness and nowhere. And never return. My ears are spoiled. Even the Visitors hush and lose their voices, looking in on me from time to time, shaking their solemn heads in pity. I am in my darkling room for months. It is a year before I can walk again without an arm around me.
Adeliza Golding is born with cataracts but after contracting scarlet fever, loses her hearing and her eyesight. By three years of age she is totally deaf and blind. As a result of this she speaks less and less and eventually becomes a blind deaf-mute. Her temper grows with her frustration and the only people she has regular contact with are her Father, her Nanny and the Visitors. Initially you don't know who 'they' are, other than that Adeliza can sense them surrounding her. One day, when she is six years old, she escapes from the house down to the surrounding hop lanes. Here she is to meet the woman who changes her life, a woman by the name of Lottie. For Lottie can do sign language and learns to communicate with Adeliza, letting her into a world that had until then, remained closed to her.
The book progresses, and changes occur when Liza, as she now calls herself, has her sight restored by Dr Knapp in 1895 at the age of 11. Now she can see the Visitors and they are to play a vital role in her life. Her friendship with Lottie grows, and even more so when she meets her brother Caleb, whom she falls in love with.
The book moves from Victorian England, through to the heat and drama of South Africa and the Boer War. I think The Visitors would make a fantastic book group book as there are lots of points up for discussion here. Rebecca Mascull bases her book on true events including the educational experiences of the deaf-blind from the C19th to the present day; late Victorian hop and oyster farming techniques in Kent; and the Second Anglo-Boer War. Having never read anything about deaf-blind people before, it certainly heightened my awareness of their plight, especially in Victorian England.
Miss Chapter x