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The Great Unknown

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  26 ratings  ·  14 reviews
What is your name? Where did you come from? And where are you going? In this immersive novel set in 1840s Britain and France, these questions probe at the essence of what it means to be human.

A wet nurse in a lively Scottish household goes by an assumed name but longs to know the identity of her father. A quarryman furtively extricates a remarkable fossil from an island
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 18th 2020 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it
What does it mean to be human? This premise is explored through different characters connected by a book on human development.

Robert Chambers family is spending summer outside Edinburgh as their house in the city is being renovated. They have eight children and one infant, whom they struggle to feed as milk sickens him. A wet nurse is hired. As busy as they are, they are excited about a book exploring natural law of creation.

Mrs. MacAdam, the wet-nurse, is living with them. She is still nursing
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
via my blog:
'Nothing happens; and nothing happens; and still nothing happens. Everything remains the same or so it seems. But the truth is that everything is changing imperceptibly all the time.'

The Great Unknown set in the 1840s Britain and France, forces one to confront the question that has haunted us all from the dawning of time. What does it mean to be me, to be a human being at all? Who am I? What is meant for me? Where do I come from? What does it
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
It was a time of social turmoil.

The working man wanted his voice heard in government. The Chartist movement was met with a violent reaction from the powers that be; the leaders were imprisoned or they fled the country.

It was an age of science.

Gentlefolk became amateur naturalists, collecting specimens of life living and dead. Fossil discoveries caused great wonder. Theories were created to explain the fossil records, some contorted to fit the Christian idea of time and history. Scandalous books
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this as an ARC and loved it. The Victorianist in me loved nerding out over all the bits of historical detail. That being said, the minutia can feel like they bog down the book if you aren't interested in that sort of thing. Don't care about Chartist principles or geological debates? This probably isn't a book you'll enjoy. It made me think hard while also entertaining me-- and I love me some good historical fiction.
I won this book on a Goodreads first read giveaway.

I want to disclaimer this by saying this is the first book I've read by this author so I didn't realize exactly what I was getting into...

This book was unfortunately not my cup of tea.

It is a very, very dialogue driven story. It's written in the same manner and style as Jane Austen (and such). And as in her particular style the characters dialogue are what push the story forward.

And I honestly feel that's the biggest fault here, the plot takes
Kim McGee
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
The British Isles in the 1840s was an exciting age of exploration of the natural sciences and a trendy pastime for the privileged to explore. But, it was still very much an age of oppression and rigid conformation to religion and strict moral conduct. The story ties a wet nurse to the Chambers family and their brood of inquisitive children, an interesting find of a fossil and the publication of a secretive book that outlines the beginnings of natural sciences apart from church teachings. The ...more
Melissa Dee
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The liberal, indeed revolutionary, household of the Chambers family is the perfect temporary home for Constantia. Living under an assumed name, temporarily in Edinburgh to deliver her babies, she acts as wet nurse to Mrs. Chambers newborn son. The new state of motherhood brings back vividly Constantias color and scent-filled memories of her childhood living in India with her mother. The lively intellectualism of teatime in the busy Chambers household encourages her to question origins: of birth, ...more
Kayla Mckinney
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this ARC!

Peg Kingman's "The Great Unknown" manages to be a very surprising combination: it's a historical novel both complicated and entertaining! The complication arises from the weighty topics the book takes on: evolution vs. religion, the meaning of mankind, even the effect of the microscope on women's fashion. The fun be attributed to the realistic and well-crafted time period and the characters - who speak intelligently on
Kathleen Gray
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This one is a challenge to categorize as well as to read- and it won't be for everyone. Set in 1840s UK and France, it offers insight more into the Chartist movement (not familiar? I was only vaguely cognizant and had to do some googling) and class issues than it does into its characters, which among them Constantia, the wet nurse. There isn't a straight line narrative plot and it's dialogue heavy as the characters (and there are a lot of them) debate. I learned a bit more than I expected about ...more
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I won this books as part of the Goodreads Giveaways.

This book contained a bunch of stuffy drivel and filler that detracted from the book. Essentially, the first half of the book seemed unnecessary.

However, once you get past the drivel, the rest of the book is one mystery after another. It was fun and exciting to try and guess how this story would develop and end. I am happy I stuck it out and read it to completion.
Mar 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
A history of natural philosophers, and fabric fashion, and travel, and life in general, wrapped in a little fictional intrigue and plotting. I was inspired to look up Vestiges, and bizarre fabric, and thus exceeded by 3 or 4 articles my usual outside reading for a novel. I learned a lot, and eventually got into the slow tempo of the writing, but only stuck with it because of my interest in evolutionary theory (and The Outlander, truth be told).
Feb 24, 2020 rated it liked it
A lively, intelligent family and those connected with them explore the ideas of evolution amidst their daily lives. This story is told from the perspectives of a gardener, a fugitive, a wet nurse, and upper-class women and children. Humor, family secrets, fossils, life in India and mysteries add color to this sometimes lofty, sometimes homey story.
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not worth the time. The cover art is lovely.
Catherine Yezak
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting read where life is way more complicated than it first appears.
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Peg Kingman is the author of Not Yet Drownd and Original Sins. Formerly a tea merchant and a technical writer, she lives in northern California. ...more

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