Saturday, 14 May 2011

‘The Unseen’ by Katherine Webb


Three words.
Oh. My.  Giddy (19th Century) Aunt. 
Okay, that’s more than three, but you get the gist, right?  This book has turned my head.  Usually I get sniffy and apathetical towards anything with a ‘period/historical’ tag. Unless it’s on telly.  Because, I think I have a real problem with not having enough detachment from my current surroundings to relate properly to another era. I’m better with televisual things because they’re straight in my face, so to speak.

Not so with ‘The Unseen’.
I can’t tell you the last time I got so involved in a book so quickly and so effortlessly.  Because there hasn’t been a time.  I couldn’t just see the characters and watch their lives unfurl as cinematic pictures in my head, smell the canal and the wildflowers, feel the awkwardness and the rigidity of the times, I was actually there.  Living with these people.  This is a pure delight from start to finish.  And what a finish. 

The title gives nothing away.  Neither does the cover picture.  In fact quite the opposite.  There I was, expecting to be a bit scared and a bit ignorant of the language of the time, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The story is just so simple and yet so powerful and so evocative of the time that I’m still not sure who I loved the most.

Leah, the heartbroken journalist who is given the chance to write a story of a lifetime (or two) by her Ex. 
Cat the fresh-from gaol 19th Century suffragette who somehow knows she wasn’t born be a servant girl. 
Hetty, the incredibly patient wife of the uptight, obsessive (about their recent enigmatic Theologist guest) Reverend Canning, or Sophie Bell, the larger-than-life cook of the Canning household.

Following Leah as she traces the story of the 19th Century household, we’re drawn into their suspicions, their desires, their secrets and their quite tragic personal circumstances.  ‘The Unseen’ was such a moving, beautifully drawn piece of work which drew me in so completely that I was walking about with it in my head in the real world and actually felt a little bereaved when I knew I was nearing the end.

I shall be ordering Katherine’s last novel, The Legacy, on the strength of this lovely writing.

And now I’m a Historical convert. Something I never thought I’d hear myself saying.

Oh, and I should say a massive THANK YOU to the lovely Virtual Victorian, Essie Fox, for drawing my (winning) name out of the competition hat and posting me this fabulous book - serendipity.

3 comments:

jc said...

Are the books you review/read real or Kindle versions?

Suz said...

I love your new blog look!

Debs Riccio said...

John... Kindle... Kindle? I'm still a good old-fashioned type-on-paper kinda girl but I also never say 'never'!
Suz, thanks - just another little procrastination tool - and a 2nd Birthday update!