The World Before Us

The World Before Us

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
8
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"A haunting tale of loss and reconciliation." -- Chatelaine
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, 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.
Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, [2014]
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780385680660
9780385680646
Characteristics: 419 pages ; 22 cm

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l
loris1234
Apr 23, 2017

Read it as a book club novel. As one of our members said "I will never get those hours back." Pointless, random characters, no ending. Interesting enough to barely keep you reading but then..nothing.

c
crayment
Jul 09, 2016

Intriguing book but a very unsatisfactory ending. The book spent a lot of time developing the personas of the others who haunt Jane (although she doesn't seem to notice they are haunting her.) There is no resolution sadly.

Bunny_Watson716 Mar 15, 2016

I really enjoyed the two parallel stories in this thoughtfully-written novel. I am quite a fan of novels that combine historical fiction and contemporary stories, like A.S. Byatt's Possession.

i
islandqueen47
Oct 04, 2015

Good writing style but a very tedious read. Won't finish it as I put it down too often and now it is due.

e
EmilyEm
Aug 20, 2015

Just like the author of 'A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France' read a few weeks ago, author Hunter used her dissertation research to help frame her novel. We follow two related stories, one set in current time and the other in Victorian time, both involving the disappearance of a person.
Right from the start you realize the story’s narrators are characters inhabiting some ghostly fringe so the telling or how the story would be told captured my interest. The book’s theme of loss and remembering were powerful to me. I do genealogy and spend a lot of time peering into the lives of people long dead. Hunter writes beautifully, paces the story well and yet I’m just not sure two days after finishing it whether I’d recommend it widely. It’s ambitious on many levels, maybe too much so. If you enjoy, however, how a story’s told this is definitely one for you!

Rana_M Aug 07, 2015

2015 Winner - Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize

a
artemishi
May 08, 2015

The World Before Us centers around two mysteries, one that happened 16 years ago and one that happened over 100 years ago, but it's not a mystery. It's more of reflection, driven by a plot, about how events and memories form connections between people. So the synopsis is a wee bit misleading, and that can lead to disappointed expectations.

That aside, the narrative was interesting. It weaves among multiple perspectives and timelines, which was at times confusing, but the protagonist (Jane) is relate-ably a bit of a 30-something mess. And you're wanting, for the sake of the rest of the ensemble, to see her sort herself out.

I liked the honest look at Jane, a woman trying to find parts of her life that don't revolve entirely around that one incident, thinking she has, and then ultimately failing, but still creating things of value to others in the world.

It's definitely more 'literature' than modern novel, in terms of pacing and themes, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. It's difficult to say much about this novel without giving anything away. I liked the journey, in that it was an interesting diversion that I could pick up and put down repeatedly as needed. I disliked the lack of closure about Lily.

I recommend it for fans of classic lit pacing, stories that meander between modern day and the Victorian era, stories that revolve around people more than events, and all things British.

n
nicobert
May 04, 2015

The novel is intriguing in the way past and present and ghosts are juxtaposed. Overall it is too wordy, too many detailed dialogues, seems to drag on. I almost stopped reading it after page 10. Needs to me more compact and fast moving. There is no real message or insight. What was the purpose of the book?

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