The Unseen was a pure pleasure to read. I’ve been on a bit of a Kate Morton, Hannah Richell, kick recently-give me the British Isles, a little bit of mystery, a few ghosts, and a little romance, and I’m in literary heaven. :)
The Unseen was all these things, and was also a story which affected me deeply.
On the surface, the novel follows Reverend Albert Canning and his wife Hester during one formative and tragic summer in 1911. The newlyweds live quietly in a small village in the English countryside, and have just hired a new maid named Cat. The other main player in the drama that enfolds is a young theosophist named Robin, a charismatic, handsome young man who hopes to make his name by proving the existence of fairies.
Without revealing spoilers, it is safe to say that the novel deals with big issues, such as freedom, women’s rights, homosexuality, and the detrimental affects of guilt. The theme of deception, of oneself, and of others, runs throughout.
What I really enjoyed about the novel was how much I empathized with most of the main characters, flawed as some of them were. Even as they made horrible choices, it was clear to see how their violence and insanity was exacerbated, if not excused, by their own suffering and guilt.
In contrast to the narrative taking place around the turn of the century, part of The Unseen also follows journalist Leah in the present day as she investigates those past events. I found Leah’s story, which includes a rather tepid romance, to be much less compelling than the narrative set in 1911. In fact, I almost think that The Unseen didn’t need the present-day investigation as a structure, and would have been stronger if it had left out the dual-time aspect.
Regardless, I really, really enjoyed The Unseen. It gave me insight into a fascinating period in history, as well as introducing me to a group of characters who I connected with deeply. On a scale of emotional intensity from 1-10, I would rate The Unseen an 8. I fell in love with Cat, with her, earnest, loyal, and kind, lover George, and with Hester Canning, struggling to understand her husband and her world.
I left the characters of The Unseen with reluctance, and highly recommend this memorable novel.