In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Possession, a hauntingly poignant novel about madness, loss, and the ties that bind our past to our present.
Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, 15-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.
Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project - an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past - Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared over one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.
In riveting, beautiful prose, The World Before Us explores the powerful notion that history is a closely connected part of us - kept alive by the resonance of our daily choices - reminding us of the possibility that we are less alone than we might think.
©2015 Aislinn Hunter (P)2015 Random House Audio
"...a powerful balancing act... It is a novel of considerable beauty, threaded with violence and pain, a melancholic book with moments of grace and joy. It is a thought-provoking novel, haunting and haunted, rooted in the power of history and of the individuals within it, and outside it... it is the sort of novel which forces you to look at the world... in a different light."(Globe and Mail)
"Intricately composed and gripping... With The World Before Us, [Hunter] has created her most ambitious and original work." (Quill and Quire)
"Once in a rare while a novel comes along to remind us of what great fiction can do: creating a world so sublimely felt that, for the hours we spend reading, we are lifted out of our own lives, and when we return we find ourselves immeasurably altered and enriched. The World Before Us... is such a novel. It is a brilliant work of humanity and imagination, artful and breathtakingly beautiful, and it will continue to haunt long after you have finished reading." (Helen Humphreys, author of The Lost Garden and Coventry)
I purchased this book based off the intriguing premise and positive review from npr. I have just over 3 hours to go and still know nothing. And not in a good, "oh the author has been stringing me along" way. More in a, "I am 21 chapters in and nothing of significance has happened" kind of way. I am bored enough that I no longer care what happened to N and the other little girl (I can't even remember her name). Jane, the protagonist, is absolutely infuriating. The only moment she stands up and does anything interesting is only told in flashbacks. The narrator is superb, but she can't save this story. I am disappointed and am pulling a Jane and giving up on it. I do look forward to listening to more of Ms. Hardingham; she is extremely talented.
This book violates at least 15 of Mark Twain's 18 rules for writing. It is an interesting concept and could have been an engaging story, but the author complicates the tale in every way imaginable (and a few that were quite beyond my capacity for imagining).
Among the primary problems:
1. We don't really know who many of the characters in the tale are until very near the end; and some of those characters serve no purpose whatsoever.
2. Most of the activity in the tale does not contribute in any meaningful way to the progress of the tale.
3. Most of the dialog is meaningless dribble that doesn't serve to develop characters or the story.
4. The story jumps around in time, in location, between the real and spirit world so much that I got dizzy while reading it.
5. Some of the important things are withheld from the reader for so long that the reader must go back to recall why the thing was important in the first place. Some (such as Jane's objective in the story) are withheld forever.
6. I never could have imagined a story that could successfully violate Rule #3, but the author manages to do it in spades. (Mark Twain Rule #3 - The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.)
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