I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Visitant: A Venetian Ghost Story by Megan Chance
Published: 2015 by Lake Union Publishing
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Horror/Gothic
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The Visitant is a tale of ghosts and madness in historical Venice. Elena Spira is offered a chance to redeem a past mistake by serving as a nurse to Samuel Farber, a young epileptic who recently survived a vicious attack in a back alley while out on a bender. Samuel is different than any patient Elena has had before, and she begins to wonder if his illness might be more than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Samuel’s best friend Nero Basilio returns to the palazzo, and Elena finds herself captivated by his rugged charm. And yet, the palazzo is a place of secrets, and the past refuses to stay buried.
Like Chance’s previous novel Inamorata, The Visitant is set in Venice, which is portrayed as a nexus of elegance and decay. Under a glamorous veneer of gondolas and artsy cafes, Venice is rotting and eating itself from within. It’s polluted, it’s dirty, and yet even through the grime, the city has the ability to charm and captivate the senses. One example that serves as a motif throughout the story is the dye factor upriver that pollutes the canal that the protagonists observe each day, changing the water into an ever-changing rainbow of color. There’s grit, but it’s juxtaposed with wonder.
Obviously, there’s a love triangle. Elena finds herself simultaneously drawn to Samuel, and yet afraid of his violent outbursts. There’s a difference between her gentle yet despairing patient and the man he becomes when he has an episode, as if he is possessed. Samuel and Elena share many similarities, including feeling trapped by fate and the possibility of an unwanted arranged marriage. They share an easy camaraderie, and Elena quite clearly cares about him more than a normal patient. Enter Nero, a charming womanizer who tells Elena about a world of adventures that she’s never known. But Nero is also an angry and jealous lover. Perhaps my favorite scene in the entire book is one in which a jealous Nero starts threatening Elena, but then Elena turns the tables and discovers a penchant for knife play, completely reversing their roles and in the process surprising the hell out of me. In fact, that scene encapsulates everything I love about Elena–despite being born into a rigid society, she is an empowered character who is ultimately the master of her own destiny.
The Visitant is what you’d get if Anne Rice and Dostoevsky could team up to write a ghost story. It’s got everything to love–madness, depression, epilepsy, lust, knives, angry ghosts, and family secrets. It is sensual, atmospheric, and hauntingly beautiful.