The World Before Us
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.
Winner of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
Nominated for the BC Fiction Book Prize
An NPR Best Book of 2015
"A gaggle of querulous ghosts narrates the events in Aislinn Hunter's new novel The World Before Us. Hunter . . . brings a moody grace to these phantoms and to her telling of this rather quirky tale. . . . A memorable read."
“Two really good novels to read over the Christmas season, both describing links between events long apart and really (here comes the book cliché), impossible to put down. These are serious books yet fun reads.”
“The World Before Us is a powerful balancing act. . . . It moves confidently line-by-line, drawing us in. 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—the people around you, the objects they hold dear—in a different light.”
—The Globe and Mail
“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
“An ambitious new novel about the vitality of objects and history’s knack for bleeding into the present. Intricate in both expression and construction, and dense in thematic implication, The World Before Us cleverly innovates while tipping a nod to classic Gothic tropes: dynastic rivalries, crumbling country houses, madhouses and vanished girls. Hunter is less tempted by spooky thrills than the chance to explore ways in which human affection resonates across time.”
“A haunting tale of loss and reconciliation. . . . The novel’s three timelines are deftly woven together, illustrating the ways life takes on meaning even through objects and places. Hunter refers to history as ‘a shifting trickster’ and uses that premise to hook readers, as they . . . embark on a quest for meaning and truth in the face of tragedy.”
“The novel’s characters are deeply imagined and multi-layered, and brought to life through potent scenes and fresh images. . . . The startling narrative point of view deepens the story, and even adds odd flashes of humour. Hunter . . . is a versatile writer, and with The World Before Us, she has created her most ambitious and original work, one that demands the deep, concentrated focus of its readers.”
—Quill and Quire
“A richly layered narrative harmonizing the past and present, dissolving the boundaries of time frames and showing the possible connections 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
"[Aislinn Hunter] writes with crispness, precision and a restrained nod to the poetic. . . . Hunter’s skilful layering of past and present has created a work of great power. The World Before Us is a sensitive and melancholy meditation on life, death and the potency of the past that lingers on in the memory."
—The Guardian (UK)
“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 by Aislinn Hunter 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.”
From the Hardcover edition.