The Unseen by Katherine Webb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think this has to be my book of the year so far. I enejoyed it so much I really didn't want it to end. I loved her debut novel the Legacy too but this just blew me away.
The main characters are extremely well drawn, real and believeable. Hester recently married to mild mannered Albert Canning, vicar of a sleepy canalside village during a long hot summer in 1911.
Cat, come from London to work as a maid in their household, recently released from Holloway prison, struggling with her inner beliefs and desire for a better life.
We are introduced to Hester in a series of letters she has penned to her married sister and it becomes clear she is struggling to adapt to and understand what is expected of her in her new role as wife, sure any shortcomings are hers and no fault lies with her devoted and gentle young husband.
Cat finds it hard to settle to a life of servitude, bringing from prison a legacy of illness, mistrust of other folk, outspokenness and an overwhelming desire for freedom.
As the scorching summer heat continues, into their lives bursts Robin Durrant - a theosophist guest of Albert whose very presence threatens to affect all of their lives in different ways.
Life will never be the same again once the unseen is revealed.
This is written as a dual time novel as in the present day Leah is researching the story of these characters from some letters found buried, however although its well written and pertinent to the storyline the modern layer of the novel is almost surplus to requirements - the strength and events of the historical part being sufficient to intrigue most readers. (I got the impression that the author felt a dual time story would be more popular and tried to turn it into one for this reason).
It doesn't spoil an excellent book however, the issues covered have been well researched and fall into place beautifully. Victorian beliefs and attitudes regarding spirituality, equality, womens rights and class division, suffragettes, homosexuality all are covered in this lovely novel, which build to a quite shocking climax.
Lovely, lovely, book, beautifully written - I just adored it.