Friday, November 2, 2012

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

In The Unseen, two letters found on a long-dead soldier's body, lead Leah on a quest to solve the mystery surrounding Hester Canning, a reverend's wife, who lived in a Berkshire village in the year 1911. Hester is quite naive and can't figure out why her husband isn't more interested in her. That's about to get a whole lot worse as their lives are turned upside down when Cat, their new maid, and Robin, a visiting theosophist, arrive on the scene. In the present day, Leah searches for clues using the letters as a starting point. What she finds is a fantastic story with plenty of secrets, deception, murder and fairies.

I loved this book. Webb is a wonderful storyteller. I loved the way she used the present day and the past to tell this story. A perfect fit for this type of story. She loaded the present day parts with little clues as to what's going to happen next for the reverend and his wife. This foreshadowing made it really suspenseful and hard to put down. There were lots of interesting side stories that weren't exactly part of the main plot, but I enjoyed reading them nevertheless.

The characters were wonderful. I especially liked Hester and really felt sorry for her. She was so naive when it came to her husband, Bertie, and their marriage/relationship, but how was she supposed to know. I suspect that in that time period certain subjects were not discussed. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that. I also liked the free-spirited Cat with the troubled past.

I've seen letters used like this a lot in other fictional works. In some cases, the letters are too heavily relied upon and it doesn't work. Thankfully, Webb uses them brilliantly. These two letters are extremely intriguing as they only give the characters in the present little bits and pieces to work with. They have to really work to find out the rest of the information.

There's so much happening in the past that at one point I completely forgot about the present day characters and how they started on this investigation (i.e. the soldier's letters). That's not to say that I didn't enjoy reading the parts with Leah and Mark, it's just that I enjoyed the historical parts more.

New words:
plonk (page 343): term for wine that is inexpensive and/or poor quality (UK)
somnambulist (page 384): sleep walker
theosophist (various pages): a believer in theosophy, which is a religious system based on intuitive sight

This edition of the book contains some extra information such as The Story Behind The Unseen, a Reading Group Guide and more. All of it was worth the read, but I was particularly intrigued by the fact that the story was first inspired by the Cottingley Fairies.

I read Webb's other book, The Legacy (my review) earlier this year and loved it. I can't wait for her next one.

Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading more books by this author.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website. I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

The Unseen by Katherine Webb, William Morrow (HarperCollins), ©2011. ISBN 9780062077882(Trade paperback), 447p.

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