The World Before Us

Paperback
We know there are Wheres and Whens but we have lost much of the distinction. We do not always know 'after' from 'before', or either of those from 'now'. We do not know our own names, or the cities or towns we came from, the cottages or houses we called home. For us there is waiting and there is sleeping and there is the dull sense that we are doing both - sleepwalking down a long hall, waking in unexpected rooms. This is why we need Jane. Jane was fifteen when her life changed for ever. In the grounds of a country house in Yorkshire, she took her eyes off the little girl she was minding and the girl slipped into the woods and was gone - never to be seen again. Now Jane is an archivist at a small London museum which is shortly to close due to lack of funding. As a final research project - inspired in part by her past - Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman identified only as N-, who walked out of a Yorkshire asylum in 1877 and disappeared in the same woods where the little girl was lost. As the novel moves between the museum in London, the Victorian asylum, and the wooded estate around the sprawling country house that connects both eras, Jane uncovers a tangled story that has been buried for more than a century, and finally confronts her own past. Haunted - and partly narrated - by the dead and forgotten, The World Before Us is a breathtakingly imaginative novel about the traces we leave behind us, what slips off the margins of history - and the possibility that we are less alone than we might think.