All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Visionist – Rachel Urquhart

on February 20, 2014

VisionistThe Visionist
Rachel Urquhart
Simon & Schuster
2014, 338p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU

Polly Kimball has had a difficult childhood. An abusive, alcoholic father, a tired mother and a young brother who is her responsibility. Just once she took her eyes off him and went to complete a chore and it nearly ended in tragedy. With the very real fear that her father might kill them to take her mother’s family farm, Polly sets fire to the cottage and she, her mother and her younger brother flee, leaving her father to burn.

Polly’s mother takes them to the City of Hope, a Shaker religious community. There she leaves the two children where they will be safe and disappears. Polly is then separated from her brother Ben by the religious beliefs – those who adopt the religion must forsake all blood relation. They are all sisters, they are all brothers. But male-female interaction is not permitted among the Shakers without an escort and Polly does not even get to speak to Ben. She knows he must be upset and confused – he is not like other boys. He is different and he needs gentle handling. She hopes that the Brothers know that.

Polly has secrets to hide from this community, big secrets. However a mysterious event soon after her arrival leads them to hail her as a “Visionist” the first of their community. They believe she is a vessel sent to speak the words and wishes of Mother Ann and this subjects her to heavy scrutiny and pressure. Polly knows that eventually they will discover her secrets and judge her despite the protection of Charity, a young Sister.

Simon Pryor is a fire inspector hired to investigate the situation surrounding the fire on the Kimball farm and for him, it is an opportunity to free himself from tyranny and also, redemption. He is unable to talk to Polly without her mother as appropriate escort and May Kimball has disappeared. There are others who wish to find May first, to get their hands on what she has that could thwart efforts to get the Kimball farm. Simon needs to find her first, for the sake of not only the whole Kimball family but also himself.

This book is quite a hard one to review. Some you sit down and the words flow easily, it’s more a problem of stopping them! But for this book, I’m finding it very difficult to articulate how I thought about it. On one hand, the writing is very good. Polly is a fabulous character, so very deserving of the reader’s sympathy. She has faced unspeakable things in her fifteen years, been subjected to truly horrible acts to go with her day to day existence of work, poverty and abuse. She takes action but that doesn’t mean it sits easy with her and her life doesn’t get much easier after the fact. She finds herself abandoned to the Shaker community, something she knows nothing about. She has to basically ignore her brother, which causes her enormous emotional distress and the added pressure of the tag of being a Visionist, a vessel is also stressful because she eventually knows that it cannot last. Before becoming a true Shaker, you must confess to an elder and adopt their ways. Polly doesn’t think anyone would understand her confession (which turns out to be much more complicated than even she first suspected) and she also gets the feeling that an Elder Shaker doesn’t expect her to stay in their community – but they are clinging to Ben.

The Shaker’s might be about visions and vessels and speaking in tongues and forsaking all worldly connections and duties but they also demonstrate a ruthless practicality when it comes to Ben. They believe that they need him because of what he will possess and to keep him within their fold, at least until he turns 18 but preferably permanently, is a must. After all, they have to eat and have the ability to make their goods to sell. Their worldly possessions as an individual are nothing but they are well fed and well clothed and they do not live in poverty. And for that to occur, they have to make smart decisions and occasionally ruthless ones.

However despite of this, there are times (a lot of times) when the story really lags. It’s very slow and the split narrative between Polly, Sister Charity and Simon Pryor doesn’t always work. It takes a very long time for everything to come together and because of this, the ending which is filled with the most action and information, feels rushed. The pacing feels very uneven and I also feel like I could’ve been given more information about what happened to Polly at the end. It was very important, what she tried to do, what Charity did to her in return and what happened after and it was glossed over and then pretty much skipped entirely as we went back to Simon Pryor, who I really didn’t care about at all. In fact he could’ve been removed from the story and his place taken by Trask at the end and it wouldn’t have made an ounce of difference to the story. What I cared about were May, Polly and Ben getting what was theirs and hopefully being reunited to try and move on with their lives. Simon was at times, merely a distraction from the story I wanted to read.

And so I am confused about this one. In parts it was really quite good and I found the Shaker movement interesting enough to google it and find out a bit more information. I found their self-serving nature interesting as well as their pious adhering to a very strict lifestyle but overall the dancing and the chanting and the speaking in tongues were a bit distracting as well and I feel like I didn’t really get a detailed portrayal of them from the book. Most of my information came after I finished reading it.


Book #41 of 2014


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