The World Before Us is a complex story about the disappearances of a young woman and a small girl into the same forest over 100 years apart. Based partially on an actual event involving Alfred Lord Tennyson, and narrated effectively by a chorus of dead inmates from a long-defunct local lunatic asylum, this novel deftly examines memory, social status, mental illness, self, and human nature. Trying desperately to understand what has happened, Jane, the sitter of the missing young girl, looks backwards to a time that may hold the key to her own healing. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of A. S. Byatt's Possession
, a spellbinding, hauntingly poignant novel about the remarkable ties that bring our pasts to the present.
Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment during their outdoor adventure, she 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 some 125 years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a compelling 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 presently 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 today than we might think.
"A complex, subtle, and utterly haunting meditation on memory, history, and mortality. This book is magnificent." Emily St. John Mandel, author of National Book Award Finalist and New York Times Bestseller Station Eleven
"Daring and mesmerizing. A haunting, irresistible story and an urgent mystery about what it means to pass through this life. Hunter has a poet's eye and ear, and she goes after the elusive — the waywardness of memory, the grief of random loss, the yearning of existence — in an unfolding drama that is absorbing, luminous and powerfully human." Alison MacLeod, Man Booker Prize-nominated author of Unexploded
"Haunting...a compelling exploration of how memory shapes and is shaped by individuals and society." Kirkus
"Haunting...an emotionally and intellectually satisfying journey in the manner of A.S. Byatt's Possession...[The World Before Us] movingly dramatizes how unknowable the past can be." Publishers Weekly
"The World Before Us is 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. Reminiscent of A.S. Byatt's Possession, it is the sort of novel which forces you to look at the world — the people around you, the objects they hold dear — in a different light." Globe and Mail
"A richly layered narrative harmonizing the past and present, dissolving the boundaries of time frames and showing the possible connection between people and places and objects...The World Before Us is a well-constructed and thoughtful novel on serious subjects. The historical detail never overwhelms; instead it brings alive the past and shows the seamlessness of past and present, especially the human need for contact, which transcends time and place." The Vancouver Sun
About the Author
Aislinn Hunter is the author of an acclaimed collection of stories, two collections of highly-praised and award-winning poetry, and the novel Stay which was recently made in to a feature film. Having lived in the UK while researching her Ph.D., Hunter now lives and teaches in Vancouver, British Columbia. The World Before Us is her US debut.