I believe it was Char who re-tweeted Jenny's blog book swap on twitter and I was keen to get involved. The idea was to read something you perhaps wouldn't normally. You didn't necessarily have to send a book, it could just be a recommendation. I was paired with Victoria and between us we agreed to send a book to one another (as it just seems much nicer that way). We chatted about what types of books we usually liked, and what we had read lately. Victoria was interested in Ellis Island and she told me about The Unseen by Katherine Webb. It certainly sounded like something I could get into, and my parcel arrived from Victoria with a lovely tag attached which worked as the prefect bookmark. The book itself was also well read enough to stay open and be comfortable to be read, and for me was the perfect size. I do love a well worn book - although I can never bring myself to bend spines - and its just one of those that I want to keep opening again and again. Does anyone else get like this over books?
The Unseen is the second novel by Katherine Webb. Her first novel, The Legacy, was Channel 4's TV Book Club winner in 2010.
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 book is set in two time lines, 100 years apart. In 2011, Leah is tasked with discovering the identity of a World War I solider found in an unmarked war grave, with only two letters discovered with the body as clues. I can't remember reading a book set out this way, although I'm sure I've seen TV programmes, but I really loved this element of the book. The majority is of the novel is set with 1911, and there isn't much set in 2011, which I actually felt was a bit of a shame, as I wanted to discover the history at the same time as Leah. often as the reader you were much further in front of her investigations, however you got much more of a sense of the back history and the emotions and motivations, that Leah clearly didn't.
Some elements of the book discuss the suffragette movement, and the attitudes towards this and women in general, at the time are fascinating to read. It's hard to imagine in our far more equal and free society that women themselves felt they were in no way knowledgeable enough to be given the vote, and that their futures lay in child raising and homemaking. Also, the attitudes of society in that you were "born" into a class, and for that reason could not better yourself, seem astonishing. These are underlying elements of the book and are not the main focus, but these explain the actions of some of the characters.
I absolutely loved this book. I'm so pleased Victoria chose to send me this, as I probably would have never picked it up myself. It's been a long time since I read a book I genuinely couldn't put down, and I've already found The Legacy in a charity shop and started reading that!
Thank you so much Victoria, and I will certainly be keeping my eye out for further Katherine Webb books!
Have you read The Unseen or any of Katherine Webb's other books? Have you read something else set in dual time lines? I'd love some recommendations!