Author: Katherine Webb
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1911 / Spiritualism / Suffragettes / Country Life / Dual Story Lines / Journalist / Contemporary / Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (5/22/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Oh yes!
One-sentence summary: One summer in 1911 undoes four people in a sleepy English village when politics, God, and the occult collide.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's pretty, but like the cover for The Legacy, I feel like it doesn't quite match the story. This cover makes me thing coming-of-age in the US, not backstabbing and murder in "sleepy Berkshire".
I'm reminded of...: Jennifer McMahon
First line: It's the most glorious spring morning here, on a day of some excitement.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is great, dramatic fun.
Why did I get this book?: I loved Webb's previous novel.
Review: Last year Webb's The Legacy was one of my favorite summer reads -- I inhaled it overnight, caught up in the drama and the skin-crawling life choices the characters made. It was delightful. So needless to say, I was eager for Webb's next offering and this one doesn't disappoint.
As with The Legacy, The Unseen features two story lines -- one in the past, one in the present, that eventually connect -- but unlike Webb's previous novel, I was less wild about this technique. The modern story line was interesting enough, but didn't quite feel right with the story, given how detailed and compelling the historical story was.
Beginning in 1911, we meet Hester and Albert Canning, who have a sexless marriage that confuses naive Hester. Their new maid, Cat, has a notorious past -- she was arrested for her involvement with the suffragettes -- and Hester's husband takes up theosophy when he believes he sees fairies nearby. An expert in the occult, Robin, comes to investigate, and his presence discomforts Hester to say the least. Over the summer, unsurprisingly, thing seen and unseen welter, fester, boil, and rise to the surface with dramatic results. Interspersed with this story the contemporary one. Leah, a journalist, is contacted by her ex-boyfriend who works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. An unknown soldier is discovered in Belgium with letters from an H. Canning. Her investigations lead her to meet the Canning's descendants, where, eventually, the story comes together.
I loved Cat -- I want a whole novel about her, frankly -- but I enjoyed Hester, too. For me, Webb's women -- no matter how amoral, or misguided, or pig-headed they might be -- are the hook of the story. I feel like I know them, I empathize with them, and even when I want to shake them, I want to hug them. As a historical novel, you feel immersed in the era without being loaded down with tons of detail or narrative, so those who aren't wild about historicals might enjoy this one. The feel of this for me is really thriller rather than straight up historical.
As with The Legacy, I couldn't put this book down -- there's a ton of tension in the story and I needed to get to the end. This is a perfect summer beach read -- you'll want a cocktail to mellow you out as you race along -- as it has enough meat to keep you focused but enough heart-racing moments that you'll be transported for a bit.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Unseen to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 6/22. Check out my interview with Katherine Webb for another chance to enter!