REVIEW by Jeremy Hughes

NWR Issue 102

The Visitor

by Katherine Stansfield

There is a striking parallel between the paintings of John Bellany (especially ‘The Waiting’) and Katherine Stansfield’s novel, The Visitor. Not only does it depict the gulls and fishing boats one expects to find in a fishing community, but also the presence of the women who are left behind when the men have gone fishing. Of the three women in the painting, the central figure could be Stansfield’s protagonist Pearl, since she appears to be wearing a thin dress or even a nightdress, which ‘blooms around her like a sail’ when she swims. Some of Bellany’s most powerful work is an exploration of the tensions created by fishing and religion in his strict Calvinist upbringing where lives were dominated by the tenuous grip on life understood by those who make a living from the sea. Stansfield’s characters’ lives are similarly circumscribed, and the tensions between religion, superstition and the apparent vicissitudes of the pilchards on which the community rely, tick around the lives. The narrative moves between Pearl’s younger and older self, and the events, as presented from her point of view, continue to become more and more tangled, so that she is unable to distinguish between the past and the present. Stansfield achieves this through Pearl’s speech and behaviour displaying symptoms of dementia which worsens and builds to a marvellous denouement. Yet before this is attained, the reader experiences the constraints within which Pearl is trying to live, in a place ‘full of gossip and distrust and not enough food’...

Jeremy Hughes’ second novel, Wingspan (Cillian), was published in November.

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previous review: Small Scale Tour
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