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The World Before Us

3.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,636 ratings  ·  359 reviews
Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 31st 2015 by Hogarth (first published May 27th 2014)
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Average rating 3.07  · 
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 ·  1,636 ratings  ·  359 reviews

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'Things break, Jane, you ought to know that by now.'

remember the thing that was so frustrating about In the Woods?? the thing that made some people throw the book against the wall?? the thing that nearly made me give up on ms. french for good?? well, this book does it too. and unfortunately, while tana french wrote really crisp characters and tight scenes in her novel, which mitigated the frustrating thing somewhat, this one is frequently murky, particularly at the beginning before the threads s
Jul 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 2016-read

The blurb describes the plot, or essence of this book perfectly. I won't repeat it.

Three parallel stories are intertwined when thirty-four-year-old Jane Standen decides to research the disappearance of a woman, only known as N, in the 1870s. It happened in the same vicinity where a young girl vanished around 1992 from the face of the earth when Jane was fifteen years old. Jane was Lily's babysitter at the time. Although she was not blamed for the incident, Jane felt responsible and ultimately d
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The World Before Us is like a cross between A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Adam Foulds’s The Quickening Maze. I was drawn to the Victorian setting and the dual story line, contrasting the mysteries of an 1870s mental asylum and manor house with the discoveries a museum employee makes in the present day. The interplay of past and present is intriguing, but there is a lot of superfluous detail and the experimental narration is off-putting. Ultimately, I was disappointed with what I hoped would become ...more
Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
Jane was fifteen-year-old when Lily, the child she was babysitting, disappeared when they were out in the woods with the girl's father. Twenty years later is she working in a small London museum that is about to close, because of lack of funding. Jane has been researching a young girl that disappeared over one hundred years before in the same woods that Lily disappeared. Will finding out what happened to N. make Jane move on with her life?

One of the main reason for me to choose this book for my
Claire Fuller
How have I never heard of this book until about three months ago? How have I never read it before? when it is exactly my kind of book. Layered, ambiguous, thoughtful, beautifully written, but with a strong narrative. When Jane was 15, Lily the child she was minding, vanished from a walk. The disappearance has haunted her into adulthood, shaped her decisions about work, relationships and study. Jane is obsessed with two things: a girl known only as N who disappears from the pages of history in a ...more
Can you work in archives and museums and not be haunted by the past? Maybe it depends on what your own past conceals. Sometimes, when I am doing family history research, I feel like I have a cloud of ghostly companionship—perhaps even guiding me, getting me to notice certain things, pushing little thoughts into my head. Very much like the situation that Jane discovers herself in The World Before Us.

Haunted by the disappearance of a child she was minding when she was a young teen, Jane retreats
I'd just like to start by saying something that should be obvious; reading tastes are individual, what you might think is fantastic (little zombie children eating people in the season that arrives after fall and departs before spring) I might think is dreadful and vice versa. And honestly, I'm totally okay with that, we don't have to agree. I'm happy for you, that you found a book you enjoyed. But what makes me even happier is when I find a book I enjoy, a book that held my attention, had me thi ...more
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Hogarth, Crown Publishing, and Goodreads for the review copy. Some books are best to read blindly, and this is one, so I will not give any plot points away. I'll say this, Hunter's language is poetic, her writing is precise, and this story is excellent. I've read the comparisons to A.S. Byatt in other reviews and on the jacket cover, but that comparison is not full-proof. In fact, I had a hard time distinguishing her influences (not that I'm good at doing that). At times, it felt like ...more
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The frequent comparisons between this book and A.S. Byatt's Possession are, I believe, misguided. Although both involve dual timelines and long-hidden secrets, Hunter's book focuses on memory, and eschews satire and verbal pyrotechnics. Instead, she takes us inside the ghosts? shades? spirits? of the long-dead actors in a story connected to a long-shuttered Victorian asylum and a Victorian botanist. She shades struggle to remember who they were, and how their stories intertwined. So does archivi ...more
Feb 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
Missing people always make for an interesting premise, so this description certainly grabs a reader. But, right from the first pages, it is evident that this is a very different sort of missing person story. The point of view for the book is definitely unique. Told from a rather formless “we,” this vague assembly of ghosts watch Jane, a museum archivist who in her spare time researches the disappearance of a young woman who went missing from the same area where twenty years earlier Jane lost the ...more
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointing read - maybe due to the "hype" surrounding this book. It was the Chatelaine pick for October Book of the Month. Just found it boring and difficult to get through. Didn't care much for the characters. I was hoping that all the stories would somehow "join" together but they never did....I also did not like the group of ghosts/spirits who turned up in the book and chattered mindlessly. It was a real annoyance!
Jess The Bookworm
May 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
When Jane was 15 a young girl went missing whilst in her care. The girl's body was never been found and Jane has never found closure.

Now Jane works at a museum and finds some records relating to an old asylum where it mentions a woman "N" who went missing in those same woods, and feels compelled to investigate further.

All the while the book is narrated by the spirits of the past, which narration was quite interesting, as they follow Jane around.

I really thought that this novel had so much poten
Andrea MacPherson
I struggled with this book.

On the one hand, it's beautifully written and researched. I could feel Hunter's confidence in the world(s) she was creating. But on the other hand, I felt distanced from the characters throughout. Perhaps because there are ao many of them, and so many narrative threads (three distinct threads/timelines, with other varying sub-storylines).

I was ultimately not convinced we *needed* all the storylines that inhabit the narrative. While each was interesting, they did not
switterbug (Betsey)
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The theme of Aislinn Hunter's novel can be found in the plural significance of the title, which can mean the world of the past, the present, or the world to come. (Does any other word capture the past, present, and future like "before"?!) The novel is about the past holding the present hostage, while the future hangs in the balance.

One hundred years ago, at the former Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics in England, two men and one woman walk out the door, but only the men return. The wom
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this beautifully written and elegantly constructed novel about a woman's journey towards healing from a defining traumatic event. When she was fifteen Jane Standen's life was cut adrift in a single moment on a woodland excursion when her five year-old charge, Lily, disappears. Lily is never found, and as a result Jane is also lost, unable to do more than drift through her life in the years following the incident.

Now 34, Jane is facing the closure of the small natural history museum where
Apr 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
It was just so hard to get into, and by page 100 I decided to just be finished with it. The sad thing is that the story itself was quite interesting. I liked learning things about the museum and the asylum.

But the narration is done by a group of spirits. And while that could have turned it into a very interesting book (I love looking into the spiritual realm) I only got confused instead. I never knew who was who, what was what, and felt lost the whole way through. By page 50 I started to skim a
MaryannC. Book Freak
Truthfully, this almost lost me once or twice. While I thought the premise was interesting and haunting, this felt a bit slow at times and I wanted more to come forth as I read.
Wart Hill
Things I Find While Shelving

I received a free ARC via NetGalley

This is a very quiet book. Quiet and…strange.

Jane Standen has, unbeknown to her, collected ghosts. Through dissertation research she uncovered a bit of a mystery at an old convalescent home - a woman who disappeared, referred to only by her first initial. As she goes on with her life, working in a museum, the mystery never really goes away. Not for her.

Because when she was fifteen, in the very same woods where they mystery woman disa
Dec 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a delightful blend of the past and the present and the ties between them. This book is so unique and completely one of a kind. I’ve never read anything like it. This is a hauntingly beautiful book, one that will pull you into its imaginative world. It’s breathtaking, magical and poetical – all that literature should be.

For those of you who like mysteries, there are several of them in this book. The first is the disappearance of a young child twenty years ago while in the care of 15-year-old
Apr 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jane, the main character in “The World Before Us”, dreams for herself and for many others in her work as a researcher. She’s obsessed with her own past but also the past of those she spies on. There’s a central tragedy that happened to her when she was 15 and her search for the truth is an attempt to come to terms with what she sees as her error. She’s strangely compassionate with others’ weaknesses but intolerant of her own. Other times and other people haunt her until she can uncover their tru ...more
Rachel Lewis
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
I waited several days before penning this review and I'm still not sure exactly how I felt about this book. The World Before Us is a conglomeration of stories that centers around Jane Standen. The story lines were actually fairly interesting for me to get into, unfortunately there is a collection of ghosts that follows Jane around and narrates is first person plural. The change in voice is jarring the first few times it happens until you get used to it and it took away from my enjoyment of the n ...more
Karen M
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014
Originally reviewed on One More Page...

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin my review of this book. The World Before Us immediately captured my attention with its opening scene and just kept getting more and more interesting as the book progressed. While, looking back, I wish we could have gotten more of an answer when it comes to a certain part, I wouldn’t hes
Alysa H.
Nov 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
The writing in this novel is absolutely lovely. Gorgeous and evocative. Aislinn Hunter has a knack for atmosphere and for bringing history to life, much like her archivist and historian characters themselves do. I felt pulled into the 19th century, and also into the modern-day headspace of the distressed, 30-something Jane Standen as she tries to pull herself together after upsetting events related, partly, to an unresolved tragedy that occurred when she was a teenager.

The interplay between the
Dec 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
When I picked this up, I wondered if "before" meant geographically or chronologically. While I came to a conclusion by the end of the book, I won't share it here. I think this is one the reader must come to herself. I really loved this book. It's a bit of a ghost story, but not in the traditional sense. But it's also about growing up, living with trauma, sleuthing, archiving, and the importance of names.

I haven't made it a habit to share quotes in the past, but two here merit sharing. "How love
I think I should start with mentioning that I'm grateful that I am done with it. I was reading it before my move and then I had to re-checkout the book from my current local library and then I wasn't really in the mood to read it. It did go faster the second time I gritted my teeth and started it, but I wasn't really sold on the book itself.

It's written in first person plural, the plural representing the collective voice of the ghosts that surround Jane, the main character. It's an affectation
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
I have way too much I want to read, so I'm trying to get better at abandoning books I don't like instead of torturing myself to finish them. I quite liked the unique, omniscient, first person plural narration - it added an interesting touch, and I spent awhile quite riveted because I wanted to figure out just who the mysterious narrators were. However, past that, this book fell flat. It just seemed fragmented to me, and the emphasis on archives and museum artifacts bored me. Of course, this is e ...more
Laurie Notaro
Mar 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Gorgeous writing, pretty much flawless. The flow and rhythm are beautiful. But the problem is the story. Absorbing initially, it grows overly complicated, so much so that by the conclusion, barely any of the many plot lines are completed. Much is left hanging in the air, and the story lines that are concluded are not the ones the reader needs to be resolved. It has history, loss, pain, mystery, ghosts...just not an ending. I think this book needed at least fifty more pages to fully round out the ...more
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
On the cover of my copy of this book is a handwritten letter dated 21st October 1877, signed by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. He is writing to the Governor of the Whitley Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics about two of his patients who escaped from the asylum and walked to his house. Although surprised by these visitors – one of whom claimed to be the Assistant Librarian at the British Museum – Tennyson invites them in and offers them tea. Although advising the governor to take precautions to e ...more
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc-review
ARC for review.

History shifts and is ever present in this magical novel by Hunter. Jane is a curator, losing her position at the Chester Museum as it closes. The closing coincides with an event to celebrate an person from Jane's past William. Their paths have not crossed since Jane was a teenager and an horrifying event occurred which altered both of their lives. This event took place on the Farrington trail, and we move back in forth in time between the mid to late 1800s when Norvill Farrington
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Comment 2 22 May 12, 2015 09:17AM  

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Aislinn Hunter is the author of six books: two books of poetry, three books of fiction and a book of lyric essays. She is a contributing editor at Arc Magazine and has contributed to numerous anthologies. She has a BFA in The History of Art and in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria, an MFA from The University of British Columbia, an MSc in Writing and Cultural Politics from The Unive ...more

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