Title: The World Before Us
Author: Aislinn Hunter
Genres: Contemporary | Historical Fiction | Magical Realism | Mystery
Length: 432 pages | 4833 locations
Source: Blogging for Books | Negalley
Jane is tormented by an event which took place when she was 15 years old. She was responsible for minding 5 year-old Lily while taking a stroll through the woods, and the child was lost, never to be found. Since then, Jane has sort of been wandering through life, trying to find meaning for it. She comes across a story of a girl whose name she does not even know, only its initial (N), who got lost in the same woods as Lily and makes it her mission to find out what happened to her.
When I first started reading this book, I was curious. The story is narrated in present tense, first person plural; I don’t think I had ever read that before. From the start, I wondered who we were and although it did not take me long to figure it out, I did enjoy discovering who each individual was and their personal stories.
As intrigued as I was, I could tell I would have a difficult time with the prose. At first, I thought I just need to dedicate my full attention to this.
But then I realized that doing my best to focus was not going to be an easy task, or enough to increment my enjoyment of the book.
There were two main things that caused my attention to waver and my satisfaction to subside:
1) The prose was simply too dense; there were endless details in, well, everything. The sentences and chapters were much too long, filled with superfluous narrations that, despite being pretty, came across, to me, as utterly unnecessary and distracting.
2) The fact that there is more than one narrator managed to play against my enjoyment as well, since whenever something came up I would be presented with the myriad of ways to experience it. Example:
Ask us what shape certainty takes and we will all point to a different corner of the museum: to the pendulum of the long-case clock, to the black stones of the birds’ eyes, to the teacups in the upper gallery, to books, locks of hair, dress silk, to the computer in Jane’s office, or the cabinet of milkweed and wild strawberry glass models made in a factory between wars.
As you can imagine, these thorough descriptions convey the book an extremely slow place and, while pretty, the fact is not much was happening for a long time.
I also struggled trying to follow all the secondary stories and numerous characters, never really feeling connected to them. At some point, I had no idea who was who anymore.
There were good things, of course. I have not read much historical fiction, but following my brief experiences I did notice that writing accordingly to the time portrayed is not an easy matter. Everything seemed well in that stance, the context was quite believable, as was the language. Going through some instances of what happens in an asylum was eerily entertaining, as much as the attempt to rationalize the inmates’ thoughts and actions. The act of digging through archives, trying to excavate long past events drew me in. The mysteries were interesting and I did want to know what happened to Jane, I just got discouraged by all the endless descriptions. And I have to admit the last 20% or so gripped me.
Sadly, the good things were not nearly enough to bring the rating up. For me, the narrative style was just dreadful, and there were several unanswered questions in the end. Only a few examples: I wanted to know what happened to Lily, how she died; how exactly the ghosts became attached to Jane; what happened to them in the end, if they ceased or otherwise found peace; and I really wanted to know who the narrator was.
At the end of the day, I could not help but think this book was unnecessarily long and kept looking at the percentage progress on my Kindle, which is never a good sign. One thing that accompanied me throughout the read was the feeling that there was a really good story hidden underneath all that flourish and clutter. Shame, really.
I fully acknowledge that the writer is very talented with words and that this book is more than capable of bringing true enjoyment to readers who appreciate this sort of prose. It was just not my case.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher, Blogging for Books and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Read from Jun 16 to Jun 20, 2015