The World Before Us

The World Before Us

Book - 2014
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When she was just fifteen, smart, sensitive Jane Standen lived through a nightmare: she lost the sweet five-year-old girl she was minding during a walk in the woods. The little girl was never found, leaving her family, and Jane, devastated. Now the grown-up Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As her one last project, she is searching the archives for scraps of information related to another missing person--a woman who disappeared some 125 years ago from a Victorian asylum. As the novel moves back and forth between the museum in contemporary London, the Victorian asylum, and a dilapidated country house that seems to connect both missing people, it unforgettably explores the repercussions of small acts, the power of affection, and the irrepressible vitality of everyday objects and events.
Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, ©2014
ISBN: 9780385680646
9780385680660
Branch Call Number: HUNTER
Characteristics: 419 pages

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Staff Book Review: The World Before Us

In The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter, we meet Jane Standen, an archivist for a small London museum who is haunted by her past. When she was 15 years old, she lost sight of the 5-year-old girl who she was babysitting for only a few minutes during an adventure in the forest, and the young girl was never seen again. Now, she’s researching the similar disappearance of a woman... (more)


From Library Staff

It was historical fiction, suspense, and a ghost story all wrapped up in one.

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SurreyLibraries_Reads Nov 19, 2018

In The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter, we meet Jane Standen, an archivist for a small London museum who is haunted by her past. When she was 15 years old, she lost sight of the 5-year-old girl who she was babysitting for only a few minutes during an adventure in the forest, and the young girl ... Read More »


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In The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter, we meet Jane Standen, an archivist for a small London museum who is haunted by her past. When she was 15 years old, she lost sight of the 5-year-old girl who she was babysitting for only a few minutes during an adventure in the forest, and the young girl was never seen again. Now, she’s researching the similar disappearance of a woman from a mental asylum 125 years ago as part of her archival work. Hunter weaves past and present in this story of loss. I’d never read anything quite like this book–it was nostalgic and grief-stricken, but hopeful and poetic. It was historical fiction, suspense, and a ghost story all wrapped up in one. A book to be slowly devoured over a cup of tea. (Submitted by Meghan).

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pothecarykaren
Aug 27, 2018

I can only echo this review: "Pointless, random characters, no ending. Interesting enough to barely keep you reading but then..nothing." There are, at least, 40 characters to follow but none of them worth the effort to figure out who they are. Don't waste your time!!!

m
MelyssaLynnKoopman
May 05, 2018

Jane is a teenager when she loses a five-year-old girl, Lily, in a forest while looking after her. Fast forward 20 years later, Jane is now an archivist that's discovered another missing woman, N-, from an insane asylum in the same part of the woods as Lily, only 100 years before.
I found the synopsis of The World Before Us to be misleading, as I anticipated that the main storyline or mystery would be based on Jane finding a link between the two disappearances that occurred essentially in the same place, a century apart. Not the case. About halfway through the book, you slowly begin to realize that the main plot focuses on finding N-. In the end, it didn't seem like there was much of a mystery to begin with and what was discovered was hardly worth reading about. Overall, I found this to be a frustrating read and was left disappointed.

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!

BHB_RS 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.

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