Title: The World Before Us
Author: Aislinn Hunter
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
As a fifteen your old, Jane’s life is changed forever when the five year old girl she is minding disappears on a casual stroll through the woods. She took her eyes from the girl for only a second and it’s too late, she’s slips into the trees, never to be seen again.
Now an adult in her late thirties, Jane becomes obsessed with another disappearance. Whilst researching her dissertation, Jane came across records from a Victorian lunatic asylum which indicate that a young women – named only ‘N’ – walked out into the woods one day in 1877. As Jane’s past comes back to haunt her, Jane emerges herself further into the case of the missing N, crossing boundaries to try and discover the fate of the young woman.
I was drawn to this novel the moment the Victorian asylum was mentioned in the description, I had just re-watched American Horror Story Asylum (a series I would highly recommend) and thought it was the perfect read to follow on to. Unfortunately, The World Before Us wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
Jane is quite a weak character, and as a result it is difficult as a reader to connect to her. When she looses her job at the museum she works at, instead of finding a new job and moving on, she runs away and hides, trying to solve the case of N. She is stuck in the past, and an encounter with William, the father of the five year old she ‘lost’, sends her over the edge. Despite all of this, it i the introduction of the ‘ghosts’ that I struggled with most. The novel is narrated by (what I assume are) ghosts of some of the characters from the lunatic asylum Jane is investigating. They have been following her around, unseen, of course, for a number of years, and do not seem to really know who they are, or what their real names are until the very end of the novel.
It’s hard to write about this aspect of the novel, because I couldn’t really understand it, and there lies my problem with The World Before Us, it didn’t really make a lot of sense, and seemed a little pointless. There is no real resolution at the end of the novel, and I would have liked to hear more about what happened to Lilly (the missing girl from Jane’s past) and for her to settle things with her father, William.
Aislinn Hunter’s writing is good, and the amount of research she has undertaken in the development of this novel shows on every page. It is interesting to learn about the Victorian asylum, however, I would have liked her to delve into this world a little more.
Perhaps the moral of the story is to learn to let things go, which Jane was unable to do until the very last page, but I still feel that there could have been a stronger ending, and stronger character growth. The World Before Us is not something I am likely to re-read, but as a writer, Hunter plays with some interesting ideas and I would not be opposed to reading anything from her in the future.