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The Visitor [Paperback]

Maeve Brennan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 15 2001
This previously unpublished novella by the late Maeve Brennan is "an astonishing miniature masterpiece. [It] will stay with the reader forever."-Nuala O'Faolain.

Maeve Brennan has been called one of the best Irish writers of stories since Joyce, and with The Visitor her oeuvre is immeasurably deepened and broadened. Written in the mid-1940s, it is a story of Dublin and of the unkind, ungenerous, emotionally distant side of the Irish temper. This haunting novella stands with her greatest short stories.


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New Yorker writer Maeve Brennan delivered a posthumous one-two with her biting collections The Springs of Affection and The Rose Garden. Now comes The Visitor, a previously unpublished novella written in the 1940s. In Brennan's stories, something quietly horrid has always just happened, or is just about to happen, or both. In The Visitor, it seems to be both. Twenty-two-year-old Anastasia King returns to Dublin after living with her mother in Paris for the past six years. The two left behind Anastasia's father and his fierce old mother. It is to this scary granny that Anastasia returns, now that her mother and father have died. But she is met by an implacable rage: Mrs. King has determined not to forgive Anastasia for deserting the family. Brennan sketches in this woman's nastiness in just a few lines. Typically, she writes around her character, rather than tackling her head on: "Mrs. King came into the room in silence. She sat down without speaking, arranging her long black skirt about her long-hidden, unimaginable knees, and examining the tea tray with a critical eye." It is clear that while Anastasia thinks she has come home to stay, she is a mere visitor, and an unwelcome one at that.

Few writers so delicately and cruelly parse their countrymen; Brennan wickedly lays bare the malicious repression of the Irish. Even as she satirizes her sanctimonious people, she makes us know that the pain they inflict and feel is real. All this witty psychologizing is done with a minimum of characters and plot. The Visitor reads like an Elizabeth Bowen novel without all those words, or like Washington Square with jokes. Brennan even provides what might be called poetry, if that word weren't so cheap: a statue of the Virgin Mary has a "pale and averted face, sweet and moodless." The Visitor makes its departure all too quickly. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This previously unpublished novella by the late Brennan (The Rose Garden), a staff writer for the New Yorker for over 30 years, was recently discovered in a university archive. Written in the 1940s, it concerns 22-year-old Anastasia King's return to her paternal grandmother's home in Dublin, where she spent the first 16 quiet years of her life. Anastasia's motherAfragile, emotionally troubled MaryAdisgraced herself by running away from her husband, John, and especially his judgmental, domineering mother, and escaping to Paris, "looking for someone she remembered from when she was at school there.... It was just an idea she had." Anastasia followed her mother to France, and, when her father came to bring them back, the teenager refused to leave Mary and return to Dublin. Six years later, Mary has died and Anastasia, now alone, returns to her grandmother's house, expecting to be embraced. Grandmother King's reaction is cold; she soon informs Anastasia that she is welcome for a visit, but that she forfeited her birthright when she chose her unstable mother over her father, who died shortly after he returned from Paris by herself. Housekeeper Katherine attempts to soften Grandmother's steely reserve, and an old family friend, Norah Kilbride, elicits Anastasia's help in a deathbed promise. This early work by the respected writer never flinches from its exploration of the destructive power of family pride and anger. Brennan's restrained but touching evocation of a young woman whose heart has been wrung dry and who thereafter is condemned to permanent exile is permeated with outrage and sorrow. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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THE MAIL TRAIN rushed along toward Dublin, and all the passengers swayed and nodded with the uneven rhythm of it and kept their eyes fixed firmly in front of them as though the least movement would bring them to the end of their patience. Read the first page
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Visitor May 16 2004
Format:Paperback
Twenty-two year old Anastasia's mother has just died and now, six years after leaving, she returns to Dublin to live with her grandmother, the years apart not dulling the bitterness and regret of an old woman obsessed with her dead son.
After a messy divorce, Anastasia's mother left her father, breaking his heart and sealing away any sense of sympathy or pity from her grandmother forever. With nowhere else to go, she is accepted into the purposely old-fashioned, stagnating household where time is whiled away drinking tea and remembering times when everything was better. Every character exudes a sense of existing only to remember the past; nobody has a future, nor do they have a desire for one. Not even Anastasia, the youngest character by fifty years, is interested in moving her life forward, she wants to regress to a time when she could be looked after and protected, unwilling to seek a future that involves taking care of herself.
The novella is very sad. One character loved a man in secret forty years ago, and, on her death-bed, requests that she be buried with a wedding ring he gave to her but that she could never wear. Another exists only to aid Anastasia's grandmother, helping here and there and making sure that everything is the same as it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Change itself is the enemy here, the grandmother's only desire is to be buried with her son, no more, no less.
There is a sense of completeness with the character's that is odd to find in a story. There are no great quests - physically, mentally or otherwise - nor are the characters given a chance to grow. In their minds, they have grown as much as they wish to - but not as much as they could - and that is enough for them.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a sad little gem Feb. 26 2006
Format:Paperback
As a reader of all Maeve Brennan's books, I found this novella to be a beautiful and sad story. Brennan writes almost like no other author I've read, and this did not disappoint. I agree with my fellow reviewer, that all of the characters are almost living in, and never let go of, the past, nor do they want to let go of it. I found it hard to sympathize with the Grandmother, a pitiful subject who visits her son's grave daily as she is so hard and bitter. For the old neighbour who wanted to marry when she was young, happiness is a memory and her long-dead Mother controls her still. You can't see any future for young Anastasia in this house. A small, beautiful read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Haunting Glimpse of the Irish Temper Nov. 8 2000
By Laure-Madeleine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
James Joyce has a rival in Maeve Brennan. In her first work, "The Visitor," Brennan creates a chilling portrait of a young woman, Anastasia King. But Anastasia is no Stephen Dedalus. Unlike Stephen, she is uneducated and has limited opportunities. Crossing the channel in opposite directions, for opposite reasons, Anastasia and Stephen have visions of different destinies.
For Anastasia,
"Somewhere in her mind a voice was saying clearly, 'Ireland is my dwelling place, Dublin is my station. . . .Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty, it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness. . . . Comical and hopeless, the long gaze back is always turned inward."
For Stephen,
"Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated consciousness of my race" ("A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man").
For Joyce and Brennan, Dublin proved to be a cold inhospitable place from which they chose to escape--Joyce to Paris and Brennan to the United States. Here, in her new "station," Brennan created a perfect novella, "The Visitor." This undiscovered masterpiece will now take its place besides Joyce's perfect novella, "The Dead."
To say a novella is perfect is to say that one has no words to add nor subtract, for the work is rare, beautiful, and truth-telling. "The Visitor" speaks volumes about the Irish temper; the icy chill that greets Anastasia shivers through one's soul.
Christopher Carduff adds an insightful Editor's Note to the novella. In it, he says, "In the music of Maeve Brennan, three notes repeatedly sound together-a ravenous grudge, a ravenous nostalgia, and a ravenous need for love. In `The Visitor' she plays this chord for the first time, announcing the key of all the songs to follow." What follows are: "The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin," "The Rose Garden: Short Stories," and "The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker."
Read "The Visitor" first: an entrée into the mind of a mistress of manners, Maeve Brennan.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is The Place To Start July 24 2001
By taking a rest - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"The Visitor", by Maeve Brennan was found in an archive after her death, and now resides at The University Of Notre Dame. It is her earliest known writing, and the book was created from the only known copy of the manuscript. Written sometime during the 1940's, it represents her earliest work, and is older than her first published piece with The New Yorker in 1950, when she was 34 years of age. Christopher Carduff who has edited all of the posthumous work of this writer and he provides an Editor's note at the end of the volume that is the most concise and accurate description of her work I have read.
If you start with this work the balance of her writings will be understood as she intended them to be read. For though her later work contains humor, it is simply a veneer for dark feelings of contempt, selfishness, and the ice-cold characters she portrays. I have read all of her fiction and this is easily the most mean spirited. There is nothing here to soften the main character, she is cruelty personified. If ranked amongst Dickens' darkest portrayals of the blackness of the human heart, this grandmother would rank near the very top. This same woman is also a contagion; for if one spends enough time with her she can cause another behave in ways that otherwise would be foreign and unnatural.
If you have yet to discover this wonderful writer this is the place to begin. For this brief tale is the start of 4 decades of work that can in many instances be traced back to the dark side of human nature first written in, "The Visitor". The work and the editor's note will send you back, to again read her stories even if you have enjoyed them before. The amazing aspect of this story is that it foreshadows not only what will become of her later writing, but also contains another human condition that she too will become a victim of later in her life.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious Ending Dec 14 2000
By James J. Hagerty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What a delight to have read on a recent airline flight, and to be so close to finishing that my eyes raced on the final pages to beat the schreech of the tires on landing. It crossed my mind how awful to be denied the conclusion by some mishap. Of course I made it, but was nonetheless denied the more typical "happily ever after" ending. I believe the author desired the reader's work to continue a bit, to contemplate and possibly turn back and re-read key sections that might suggest a resolution. A terrific book for a book club. I would love to hear folks argue over the author's way of closing the story. If there is a Maeve Brennan expert out there for whom the ending was more obvious, it would be interesting to hear your take. But not necessary. I am happy with it as is.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Visitor May 16 2004
By Damian Kelleher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Twenty-two year old Anastasia's mother has just died and now, six years after leaving, she returns to Dublin to live with her grandmother, the years apart not dulling the bitterness and regret of an old woman obsessed with her dead son.
After a messy divorce, Anastasia's mother left her father, breaking his heart and sealing away any sense of sympathy or pity from her grandmother forever. With nowhere else to go, she is accepted into the purposely old-fashioned, stagnating household where time is whiled away drinking tea and remembering times when everything was better. Every character exudes a sense of existing only to remember the past; nobody has a future, nor do they have a desire for one. Not even Anastasia, the youngest character by fifty years, is interested in moving her life forward, she wants to regress to a time when she could be looked after and protected, unwilling to seek a future that involves taking care of herself.
The novella is very sad. One character loved a man in secret forty years ago, and, on her death-bed, requests that she be buried with a wedding ring he gave to her but that she could never wear. Another exists only to aid Anastasia's grandmother, helping here and there and making sure that everything is the same as it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Change itself is the enemy here, the grandmother's only desire is to be buried with her son, no more, no less.
There is a sense of completeness with the character's that is odd to find in a story. There are no great quests - physically, mentally or otherwise - nor are the characters given a chance to grow. In their minds, they have grown as much as they wish to - but not as much as they could - and that is enough for them. For now, they are dead without knowing it, waiting patiently for the time when God will call them up to Heaven.
The writing is grey and cold - at least, that is how I felt while reading it. Sentences are short, crisp, and wonderfully indicative of the mentalities of the characters. Very rarely are there any excursions into contemplation, everything stays very much in the moment, analysing in great detail the all-too-easy stagnation of a life where the reasons for living are gone, forever.
This novella is very short - 81 pages - but worth the read. It is unhappy, but not in a sense that the reader will become unhappy. Rather, we are able to examine the fruitless lives of four different people happy to wait and wait and wait. In them we can see a reality we do not want, and thus avoid.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moody, dreamlike, brilliant prose April 16 2001
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
THE VISITOR is a miracle of terse writing. The story - a young woman attempting to re-enter her only remaining family in Dublin after her mother's death in Paris and finding that even this is not her home - is as engrossing as a long novel. As a matter of fact, reading this short novella leaves the reader with such clear images of the four women characters that you feel you've been getting to know them for years. For Brennan, the clash of Irish women, struck firmly in the molds they have been assigned/chosen, is fodder for what could be a dark nightmare. But we are awake, her characters are real and unyielding, and we are given a glimpse of just how cruel and isolated estranged families can be. Brennan creates her tale amidst the foggy and rainy depressed atmosphere of Dublin, and even her women who attempt some morsel of kindness get buried in the dank reality of this sad tale. This is committed writing at its best, a joy to read despite the gothic horror of the tale.
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