Title: The Unseen
Author: Katherine Webb
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review--thanks, Katherine!
'The first time Leah met the man who would change her life, he was lying face down on a steel table, quite oblivious to her..'
This sweeping historical novel opens with that tantalizing first line, and in moments, the reader is sucked in. Moving back and forth between the present year, 2011, and 1911, Leah, struggling after a messy breakup, throws herself into the mystery the dead man presents. And in doing so, begins to cover a mystery forgotten by all but time itself. In 1911, Hester Canning, and her reverend husband, Albert, hire a young servant with a more than checkered past. As if Cat Morley weren't enough to deal with, when her husband takes in a young man with a dangerous obsession, it leads to darker impulses that stain even the purest of hearts..
There were more than several things I loved about this novel: the gorgeous prose, seemingly straight out of an Austen novel and highly recommended for fans of The Thirteenth Tale and Ian McEwan's novels. I also enjoyed the way the novel went smoothly back and forth between past and present, though at times the slow pacing was frustrating--at times it was difficult to hold onto. But the shining triumph of this novel was that it asked the question: What drives a man to his darker impulses, and why? This question is addressed more than once in the book, often in subtle ways that the characters themselves didn't quite understand, even towards the end.
One of the best things about The Unseen are the characters: none of them are necessarily good, but none are quite bad, either, and part of the suspense for me--what kept me hanging on so tightly--was that I couldn't really predict what was going to happen next. Every character, Leah, Mark, Hester, Albert, Robin, Cat, and even Sophie and George had hidden layers that made them nuanced. Despite my disgust, I really sympathized with most of them, save Ryan.
I enjoyed the ending, too--I felt like it fit with the author's writing style, nothing ever explicit, but rather implied.
Unfortunately, at times, the novel got muddled just by the fact that the chapters were so long, but overall, I highly enjoyed it!
The bottom line: 3.5 out of 5 stars, with great Gothic tone and nuanced yet sympathetic characters. A great book nonetheless, and I'll be waiting for more from Katherine Webb! Next on deck: Soulless by Amber Garr!