THE VISITORS, by Sally Beauman, is a historical novel based on one of the most exciting events in Egypt: Combing The Valley of the Kings and unearthing the tomb of the boy king, Tutankhamun.
The story of Howard Carter’s quest for King Tut’s tomb is not news. However, Sally Beauman manages to tell the tale using real and fictitious people making it fresh. The voices of the two young girls are just delightful.
Our story begins in January of 1922. Eleven-year-old Lucy has arrived in Cairo to visit the pyramids with her guardian. Recovering from a deadly bout with typhoid fever, which has claimed the life of her mother, Lucy finds herself in the company of a group of scientists, their wives, lovers, and a whole host of snoops. Her academic father has decided to hide himself away in his writing, and has stayed behind in England. Add a high-profile disappearance, and you even have a mystery.
What an exciting time to be in the Valley of the Kings. Howard Carter had been digging for years so sure he was just on the verge of unearthing the biggest find of all: King Tutankhamun’s final resting place.
Among the pyramids of Giza, and enjoying luncheon at the paw of the Sphinx, Lucy finds herself enmeshed in more than a little history-making. But she’s caught up in the midst of a bunch of stuffy adults… Until Frances comes along to keep her company. Frances is the daughter of a wealthy American archeologist. Their friendship is instant and forever.
A lot of time is taken to set this novel up. Once I was in Luxor and in the vicinity of the tombs THE VISITOR became a page-turner. And by then, I wanted to soak up all the history. Beauman has truly done her research. She must have spent oodles of time and had a ball. She has certainly presented the tale in a rich and entertaining way.
Going back and forth in time, most of the story takes place in the twenties and during the childhood of Lucy and Frances, however, the story does move to England in the present day as we find Lucy in old age and being prodded for information about the historic events concerning the finding of Tut’s tomb. The prodder is a young man who is making a documentary film about the find. He realizes there is more than meets the eye and is intent on finding the whole story. So it’s Lucy thinking back and remembering…
A lot is known about the discovery Carter made. But there is plenty of mystery still shrouding this dig. And that is what makes this story so compelling. I loved this part of the novel. I pictured the gold and the artifacts as they were first set eyes on within the tomb. And the tomb is actually much smaller than you would think. How do I know this? My friend Lin visited the tomb and the Valley of the Kings years ago. She took the picture of the Sphinx’s Paw above. In the novel Lucy and Frances and their group luncheon in the area by the paws. Amazing!!!
It is known that thousands of artifacts were in the tomb. And there were several rooms. It is all fascinating. Especially so, since we know most of this is true. I asked Lin about the heat. Yes, it’s as stifling as you can imagine. Almost unbearable, I would think. These tombs have been here for three thousand years, and many of them have painting and writing that is still intact. The Sphinx itself appears to be in bad shape, but they have worked to support it.
Lucy has to return to her home in England, eventually. She is schooled by a young woman who ends up being a very important person in her life.
And then she returns to Luxor to visit Howard Carter at the dig site. Yes, he’s still there after years. He’s been mentored by Lord Carnarvon, his financier and resident of Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame. Finally, news of an impending “important” find in the Valley is whispered in the media. And now the excitement has built to a clamorous height. This is what we’ve been waiting for.
This tome of a book about a tomb is ambitious in both scope and story. It works. Give it time, though. I think you’ll be glad you did.
My gorgeous review copy is now dogeared and beaten up. I thank Harper Collins for sending. Thanks so much!