Memories, regrets and ghosts --all gifts from the past to the present. Aisilnn Hunter's The World Before Us is a story about all three.
Jane Standen is a woman who is surrounded by ghosts --literally and figuratively. First, the ghost of a tragedy. When she was a fifteen year old, a child she was minding (Lilly) disappeared, and has never been found. Her guilt and obsession with Lilly's loss propels her to investigate the disappreanace of N___, a woman who disappeared from a Victorian asylum. This is the second ghost. Third, her work as an archivist in a small London museum founded by a Victorian gentleman, that is closing because of lack of funding, is another sort of ghost. Finally, she is a magnet for a motley crowd of assorted ghosts/spirits who follow her around, hoping to find themselves and their memories through her work.
The interdependencies between all these ghosts is what the novel deals with. As the novel progresses, secrets are revealed, mysteries are unraveled, and identities are reclaimed.
The beauty of The World Before Us lies in the fact that in reading it the reader is transported into these other worlds. I felt haunted by the characters and their motivations. The lyrical prose makes reading a pleasure. The rich, textured imagery lifts the novel and turns reading into a multisensory experience. The feeling one gets is that this is truly a novel one can sink one's teeth into. Sinful, and dark, like a chocolate cake, it promises to satiate.
Yet, it leaves the reader feeling frustrated. One does not get all the answers one wants. "More! More!," screams the reader initially, before eventually realizing that there couldn't be a more brilliant ending. When that realization comes one is left with the desire to mull over the book, the characters and the events. The last chapter echoes the first --a testimony to the cyclical quality of memories, and life and death itself.
Last, but not the least, is the true story that inspired the novel, revealed to the reader in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, leaves one with the desire to read everything all over again.
The World Before Us is the kind novel that comes along once in a while --one which takes the reader along on an emotional journey. It challenges the reader--encouraging him/her to introspect. It is a philosophical tour de force that inspite of dealing with matters of life and death, manages to remain beautifully grounded.
FTC disclaimer : I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Author Bio : http://www.randomhouse.com/author/177228/aislinn-hunter