The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter, is a beautiful novel.It has a very similar tone to several other semi-spooky, gothic-esque, British-based novels I’ve read in the past few years, but it stands out as a unique piece in many different ways. It took me a long time to get through it, because grad school this term has been brutal, but it was not at all because of book quality.
I will try to keep this review spoiler-free, but make no promises that I won’t accidentally let something slip!
“When she was just fifteen, smart, sensitive Jane Standen lived through a nightmare: she lost the sweet five-year-old girl she was minding during a walk in the woods. The little girl was never found, leaving her family, and Jane, devastated. Now the grown-up Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As her one last project, she is searching the archives for scraps of information related to another missing person–a woman who disappeared some 125 years ago from a Victorian asylum. As the novel moves back and forth between the museum in contemporary London, the Victorian asylum, and a dilapidated country house that seems to connect both missing people, it unforgettably explores the repercussions of small acts, the power of affection, and the irrepressible vitality of everyday objects and events.”
Publisher’s weekly compares the book to A.S. Byatt’s Possession and I think that’s a very apt connection.
This book is beautiful, in both its physical nature, the language used, and the story told. I related deeply to Jane’s job related insecurities (though fortunately didn’t share much else with her) and her dissertation topic (19th century British asylums) is a topic of interest that I also share. The book started out with a more Gothic feel, but got lighter as it went on.
This book tells four stories: The first story is of fifteen-year-old Jane trying to come of age but instead facing a life-defining personal tragedy.
The second story is of adult Jane, an archivist at a closing museum, trying to tie the ends of her life together.
The third story is of those watching Jane
and the fourth is the story of N-, who wandered away from the Whitmore Asylum for Convalescent Lunatics.
This not a traditional ghost story, or a mystery story, which is what I expected from the synopsis. It also doesn’t end with a tidy resolution- if that’s something that will bother you, you probably don’t want to read this book. I definitelyrecommend this book to anyone who likes novels that have that hard-to-explain but easily identified British feel to them.
The World Before Us is an amazing book up growing up, moving on, the power of discovery.
4 out of 5 stars.
The book was provided free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review