The Visitors by Sally Beauman was one of those books I was dying to read. It is set in 1920s Egypt during the time that Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. Being a child of the 1970s seeing the King Tut exhibit in Toronto was one of the highlights of my childhood. Put that together with the fact that I have never read anything by Beauman, who I believe is more popular in the UK than in North America, and I was dying to get started.
The story of the discovery of Tutankhamun is told from the perspective of eleven year old Lucy. She was sent to to Egypt to recuperate from a lengthy illness. Almost immediately she and her guardian fall into the company of Lord Carnarvon, Howard Carter and their circle. The story is told over the course of several archaeological dig seasons, culminating in the discovery of the tomb.
Although I did enjoy this novel, it is difficult to say how much. The portions set in Egypt I loved. The setting was right up my alley and I was able to put aside my dislike of precocious young narrators. Unfortunately, for large parts of the narrative Lucy was back in England coming to terms with the death of her mother and her father’s new love interest. The whole time Lucy is in England she longs to be back in Egypt and so did I.
Who would like this book? The Visitors is based on the real life occurrences surrounding the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Beauman has done her archival work and it shows. Her book gives insight into many of the controversies that blighted the dig. Like all books of this nature, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt, but I found it fascinating. The book also digs into the issues of who gets the spoils of such adventures. The British Museum? Lord Carnarvon? Egypt? It also gave insight into early conservation methods.