New York Times

The true virtue of this story is the meditative consideration of the value of hardship and the transformative nature of ecstasy. Like Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead” and Edward P. Jones’s “The Known World,” “The Visionist” aspires to illuminate our understanding of faith, resilience, shame and forgiveness. Both Sister Charity and Pryor will become enamored of Polly’s divine gifts and each will long to know her secrets. Early in the novel, a character suggests “no story was worth telling unless it had a lesson to teach.” “The Visionist” reveals there is a power to being mysterious but there is an even greater gift to being known, which at its heart is simply another way of being loved.  Read More

SF Chronicle

Urquhart's shatteringly original debut transports readers to a fierce bastion of belief, a 19th century Shaker enclave, the City of Hope, during the Era of Manifestations, when young Shaker girls across the country are experiencing incredible mystical visions. Part mystery and part thriller, "The Visionist" is also a shimmering exploration of identity. "Is anyone who we think they are?" asks Polly, and in this wise and haunting debut, the answer is provocative, passionate and profoundly redemptive.  Read More


Urquhart layers The Visionist with many startling moments, from the chorus of consoling angels that come to Polly when her father visits her bed at night, to the lengths to which ways her courageous mother goes to protect her. She makes it clear that elements of the Shaker way — new members turned over all property to the community, and impoverished parents who might have had an upward turn of fortune weren't able to reclaim indentured children until they reached adulthood—were less than spiritual. And in the course of her lyrically written tale, she offers a fresh view of this mysterious religious sect.  Read More

O, The Oprah Magazine

"A daring novel of secrets, revelations, and redemption...Rachel Urquhart's engrossing first novel...sparks a story of guilt, greed, friendship, and fanatical piety in 19th-century Massachusetts."  Read More

New York Journal of Books

A debut novel that exhibits none of the awkwardness of plot, character, or narrative sometimes found in first novels, The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart is a literary achievement one might expect from a writer with an extensive backlist of published works, not a novice at the craft of book-length fiction.   Read More

“Gripping, profound, and beautifully written, The Visionist takes us to a world where faith and fear exist simultaneously and safety has a price. A remarkable exploration of love in all its forms with complex characters who linger far beyond the final pages.”

 — BRUNONIA BARRY, author of The Lace Reader 

 “Rachel Urquhart paints a fascinating, complex portrait of Shaker culture in early America. An unexpected coming-of-age story, a suspenseful mystery. But what makes The Visionist particularly engaging is its thoughtful examination of the nature of good and evil, and our struggle to recognize it in ourselves and in others.”

— EOWYN IVEY, author of The Snow Child 

 “Rachel Urquhart’s transporting debut, The Visionist, lifts the veil on the intriguing, mystical past world of the Massachusetts Shakers. Equal parts exquisite historical coming-of-age story and harrowing crime procedural, The Visionist breathes life into desperate young Polly Kimball, weaving a complex and compelling drama about one of American history’s most elusive religious communities. Lovers of historical fiction and seekers after truth will devour The Visionist just like I did.”

— KATHERINE HOWE, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

“Alone in their privacy, the Shakers have always retained their mystery, and our trust that their secrets are benign. But the troubles of a small, cloistered society bent on perfection are no different from those outside its influence, but for one thing: they unfold in the kind of pressure cooker that guarantees crisis. The Visionist reveals Rachel Urquhart’s artistry, and her talent for suspense.”

— KATHRYN HARRISON, author of Enchantments and The Kiss 

 “The Visionist is both a haunting, beautifully imagined tale of lives devastated by cruelty and transformed by love, and a gorgeously evocative portrait of an 1840s Shaker settlement that is as startling as it is convincing.”

— CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN, author of The Painted Girls