Imagine a world existing contemporaneous to our existence yet separated by some unseen veil. The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter, in a sense, shows the reader two worlds. There is the world we all inhabit where Jane Standen lives, works, and frets over past mistakes. Along side her, but unseen, is a chorus of spirits seeking identity and clinging to Jane with the hope that she will discover their pasts.
The World Before Us is a non-traditional, non-linear novel following two story lines. The novel begins sometime in the nineteenth century at a Victorian asylum in the north English countryside on a nice day when three patients walk away; only two come back. The story switches to contemporary England and museum archivist Jane Standen. The reader enters Jane’s narrative as she is fretting over the closure of the Chester Museum where she works. She is also upset with the prospect of seeing William Eliot again. The novel then changes to flashbacks to the last time Jane saw William. She was fifteen and babysitting William’s daughter, Lilly, who disappeared that day during an outing to the English countryside. Realizing her life has remained encapsulated from the world in an attempt to protect herself, Jane runs away and back to her research in an endeavor to find the answers that will explain her life and possibly what happened the day Lilly disappeared. Through the story, a chorus of spirits follow Jane, observing her life and research in their own hopes of knowing themselves.
Aislinn Hunter has created an intense, complex yet understandable and highly readable novel. The World Before Us is a narrative marvel. The book is very well written and engaging. The characters are relatable and easily draw the reader into their story. The novel’s multiple narrators have questionable reliability in their observations. Each narration is a point of view and each character may see a situation slightly different from another.
If you are looking for a novel that you can immerse yourself into, I very much recommend The World Before Us. Beyond the beautiful writing, Hunter’s novel flows like a stream along a rhythmic shore. The non-linear storyline at times can seem jarring, especially when I was deeply into a current line of narration, yet I’d quickly fall back into the rhythm of the story feeling enveloped once more in the folds of narration. I feel as if I’m gushing over The World Before Us yet I love finding a novel that fully absorbs me and engages my attention.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Hogarth. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.