Review: The Visitors by Simon Sylvester Visitors by Simon Sylvester (Melville House, 368 pages, December 2015)

In case you are as clueless as I was before reading this novel, a "selkie" is a "seal-person," born out of the storytelling and mythmaking traditions of the British Isles. In The Visitors, Sylvester takes us to a remote island off the Scottish coast (Bancree) where several men have mysteriously vanished, and selkies are involved. In fact...well...I won't spoil it for you.

At once a mystery and a story about storytelling, The Visitors is one of those quick, absorbing reads that keeps you up until 2am, even when you know that you have to get up in less than four hours. Flora, the main character, feels trapped on Bancree, waiting for her senior year to end so that she can escape to a more happening place (which would be anywhere, basically, except maybe Antarctica). Her boyfriend has left for college and she sees a long, lonely year stretching out in front of her...until Ailsa Dobie and her father John move in to the abandoned house on Dog Rock, a tiny island off the coast of Bancree. They're kind of strange, and pale, and intense, but soon Flora and Ailsa become friends and confidantes.

While working on a school project about selkies, Flora reads and hears about the more disturbing brand of selkie tales- those that involve heartbreak and loneliness and obsession. As she tries to trace down the author of a book of selkie stories she found in a used bookstore, and as the island inhabitants grow increasingly alarmed at the disappearances of several of their friends, the two seemingly unrelated elements converge at a single mystery.

Sylvester offers us rich descriptions of the Scottish coast and daily life on a small island where everyone knows everyone else's business. His mixture of wry humor and slowly-building suspense makes me want to read whatever he writes next.

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