Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"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 a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project--an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past--Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on."
The World Before Us centers around two mysteries, one that happened 16 years ago and one that happened over 100 years ago, but it's not a mystery. It's more of reflection, driven by a plot, about how events and memories form connections between people. So the synopsis is a wee bit misleading, and that can lead to disappointed expectations.
That aside, the narrative was interesting. It weaves among multiple perspectives and timelines, which was at times confusing, but the protagonist (Jane) is relate-ably a bit of a 30-something mess. And you're wanting, for the sake of the rest of the ensemble, to see her sort herself out.
I liked the honest look at Jane, a woman trying to find parts of her life that don't revolve entirely around that one incident, thinking she has, and then ultimately failing, but still creating things of value to others in the world.
It's definitely more 'literature' than modern novel, in terms of pacing and themes, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. It's difficult to say much about this novel without giving anything away. I liked the journey, in that it was an interesting diversion that I could pick up and put down repeatedly as needed. I disliked the lack of closure about Lily.
I recommend it for fans of classic lit pacing, stories that meander between modern day and the Victorian era, stories that revolve around people more than events, and all things British.
Labels: aislinn hunter, book review, contemporary, defining self, female protagonist, history, mystery, the world before us