Monday, 1 August 2011

Book Review: THE UNSEEN BY KATHERINE WEBB

Genre:  Fiction
Published by:  Orion (Mar 2011)
Pages:  373  (Paperback - Uncorrected proof)
Source:  Waterstones Facebook
My Rating:  9.5/10

About the Book:

England, 1911. The Reverend Albert Canning, a vicar with a passion for spiritualism, leads a happy existence with his naive wife Hester in a sleepy Berkshire village. As summer dawns, their quiet lives are changed for ever by two new arrivals.
First comes Cat, the new maid: a free-spirited and disaffected young woman sent down from London after entanglements with the law. Cat quickly finds a place for herself in the secret underbelly of local society as she plots her escape.
Then comes Robin Durrant, a leading expert in the occult, enticed by tales of elemental beings in the water meadows nearby. A young man of magnetic charm and beauty, Robin soon becomes an object of fascination and desire.
During a long spell of oppressive summer heat, the rectory at Cold Ash Holt becomes charged with ambition, love and jealousy; a mixture of emotions so powerful that it leads, ultimately, to murder.

The story starts in 1911 with Hester writing a letter to her sister saying that she’s looking forward to the new maid, Cat, coming and how she will be her ‘project’.

We are then fast forwarded to the present when Leah, a freelance journalist, has been asked to come to Belgium from England to try and discover the identity of a young WWI soldier who has been found buried in a garden.  He had two letters on him from a H. Canning which pique her interest.

This is the intriguing beginning to a compelling drama played out during the long hot summer of 1911 when everyone’s lives would never be the same again after the two additions to the Canning household, who comprised:-

Cat Morley, feisty, unafraid to speak her mind, even to her employer, and had been in prison for her suffragette activities.  I really liked her, and, like many servants at that time she was starting to question her status and rights.

Robin Durrant, a theosophist who believed in ethereal beings and was on a quest for wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.  Both Cat and Hester didn’t trust him.  He was manipulative, smooth, unreadable and a very unlikeable but compelling character.

Hester Canning, naive and nervous wife of the vicar, she is desperate for a child.  I felt a lot of sympathy for her, she was a good person who tried to do the right thing but she was too soft.

Albert Canning, the local vicar who invites Durrant to stay, believes everything he says and hangs on his every word, his face alights with excitement welcoming Robin to his house.  

In the present, while Leah is trying to identify the soldier, the sender of the letters and the secrets contained therein, we discover the truth about the lies and deception during that ill-fated 1911 summer.

I really liked the dual narrative between past and present.  

I loved everything about this book, the time period, the writing, the original plot, the characters who all seemed real and believable to me.

If you’re interested in this time period I would definitely recommend a non-fiction novel called The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicholson.  The backdrop is the long hot summer of 1911 and here are my thoughts on the book.

 
 

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