The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

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At 15, Jane was babysitting when her charge, 5 year old Lily went missing on a day out.  At 34, Jane finds herself forced to confront her past when Lily’s father, William, is booked to make a speech at the museum she is working at as an archivist.

Already stressed because the museum is closing and she has no job to go to when it does, Jane is on a knife edge by the day of William’s speech.  She imagines it in her minds eye, seeing herself coming across the shell of a man.  One who, like her, has been unable to let go of that fateful day.  One who thinks of Lily and wonders what happened to her almost constantly.  What she comes across instead is a man who has moved on, who has a new daughter and a beautiful wife.  And a man who doesn’t recognise her when they come face to face.

The realisation that he has moved on in a way she hasn’t been able to sends Jane into a tailspin.  Unsure what to do, she flees the museum, running to the only place she really thinks about, the grounds of Inglewood and the former Whitmore Asylum where Lily disappeared and where Jane had focused her dissertation.

It was whilst writing her dissertation that she came across and became obsessed with the disappearance of another young girl 100 years before.  N___ had gone missing after a walk in the woods with some inpatients and seems to have been removed from the records.  Jane becomes determined to find out why and the connection the disappearance might have to the nearby Inglewood stately home.

All of this feels quite complicated to explain and it felt the same to read, especially as it was written in both third and first person plural through the mixed voices of ghosts who have attached themselves to Jane (and were former residents of Inglewood and Whitmore). The back and forth between the two voices didn’t seem to have much of a rhythm and it took me a while to figure out just who was speaking and why the ghosts were there.

The why was to fill in the gaps from Jane’s research but I never really got used to the style of writing throughout the book and would have much preferred Aislinn Hunter to choose one voice or the other.  I felt it was too distracting and took away from Jane and what was happening to her, which was actually quite interesting.  This is because this book, despite the blurb focusing on the missing girls was actually about Jane finding herself.

It took a while for me to realise this as well and I wonder if the author was sure what she wanted to achieve because the focus seemed to keep shifting.  Sometimes it felt like a mystery, sometimes a ghost story, sometimes a journey of discovery.  I just wanted one of these (I’m not sure I would have minded which as I think Aislinn Hunter has a way with words and there are some great descriptive passages).  In the end, I didn’t feel like I got anything and was left feeling disappointed and maybe a little cheated.  Meaning that, sadly and despite high hopes when I started, this isn’t one for me. Sorry!

Emma

This book was a review copy received in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts are my own. 

5 comments
  1. That’s to bad about the shifting focus. I love the premise of this but think I would prefer it to be more of a thriller then a self-discovery. Great review!

    1. Thanks. I think the thriller/ mystery option would have been a good one. I think the blurb led me to believe it would be.

  2. I loved the sound of this, but you aren’t the first person I’ve noticed being disappointed. One to cross off my list of possibilities, I think.

    1. I did too. I struggled to write the review because I felt disappointed and wanted to like it more.

  3. […] recommending are The Boy Who Could See Death by Salley Vickers, The Other Child by Lucy Atkins and The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter. The first was a no straight away – it was a struggle to finish – the […]

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