A beautifully written tale that is a blend of mystery, ghost story and very real human tragedy, The World Before Us is a story about what is missing—and also about what is always present.
In her U.S. debut, Canadian award-winning poet and author Aislinn Hunter dips into the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries to tell the story of a London archivist who is entangled in her own past as well as a much more distant one.
In the summer of 1991, 15-year-old Jane Standen was babysitting 5-year-old Lily during an outing with Lily’s father, William, a researcher studying a Victorian-era plant hunter. The gardens they were visiting were close to a long-abandoned asylum, the Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics. One moment Lily was there, laughing and playing along the trail while Jane’s thoughts were preoccupied by her dizzying adolescent crush on William. The next moment, Lily was gone—forever.
Lily’s disappearance is never solved, and Jane moves forward in a fog of guilt, aborting a career as a cellist before settling on archiving, a fitting path for someone unable to move beyond one aspect of her own history.
While working with historical documents at the Chester Museum, Jane becomes obsessed with another missing-persons tale. A young woman left the grounds of Whitmore with two men one summer day in 1887—and also seemed to permanently disappear.
As Jane researches this case and continues to grapple with the fallout from her own devastating experience, the reader meets a stream of fascinating characters from three centuries, whose far-reaching and long-spanning connections remind us of the history we breathe in each day as we go about our lives.
The reader is also treated to an original mix of narrators—a ghostly Greek chorus of sorts, made up of long-gone folks who are also obsessed with their own pasts and present identities.
This is a special book that starts out a bit slowly but quickly becomes tremendously absorbing.