Read for: The cover/synopsis lured me in
I am totally guilty of judging a book by it’s cover. This has a two pronged effect; 1. I bypass a lot of books that are probably amazing despite tragically designed book jackets, and 2. I read a lot of books with interesting covers that are unfortunately not all that great. The Visionist falls into the latter category. Partly, this is just due to bad timing for this particular book; Burial Rites is a hard act to follow! And unfortunately there were a lot of similarities between the two that drove Visionist to fall short by comparison (Both historical fiction set in the early half of the 1800’s, both draw on an event involving murder/barn fires, both feature characters named Agnes… and a few more minor things) All that said, it’s not fair to compare one book to another and I’ll try to evaluate this book on it’s own.
This story is about 15 year old Polly who flees her abusive father with her Mother and younger brother in tow, the burning barn the last thing they see. Polly and her brother are then delivered into the hands of the Shakers by Mommy Dearest before she rides off into the sunset. The story then follows Polly’s time within the community through her own POV as well as her new friend Sister Charity’s. A third POV is added to the mix with Simon Pryor, fire investigator, trying to sort out the land title claim to the abandoned/semi-burned farm. Things that held me back from liking this: 1. A lot of the writing was clunky. The first few chapters were touch and go for me and I almost quit right away. I hung in there though, despite the totally unbelievable dialogue and rocky explanations of life for Polly and her family. 2. The plot largely revolving around the rightful owner of the farm didn’t interest me. Sister Agnes wants the farm, Polly wants the farm, evil employer of Simon Pryor wants the farm, and so on. And I don’t care one bit who gets it. 3. I felt a bit mislead by the synopsis, which had me believing there would be an element of supernatural/spooky as Polly is labelled a “Visionist”, someone who has spiritual ability to receive messages from Angels/Mother/Whatever. This is probably my fault, because I want everything to be sci-fi/fantasy. Obviously. The novel very noticeably does not develop this “visionist” aspect of the story at all, which I found strange considering it is the title of the book. Is Polly really a visionist? If she isn’t (which apparently she isn’t), then what are the “visions” she keeps describing all about? Is the energy of the Shakers singing her praises giving her placebo-visions? Is that even a thing? I could go on but I’ll stop here. I liked the descriptions of the Shaker community, but overall this book just did not do it for me.