Twelve years in the making and following her previous novel that elicited critical acclaim and a movie deal, Aislinn Hunter’s The World Before Us is off to an astounding start by being shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, awarded to the author of the best work of fiction.
An instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s creative writing department, the writer-in-residence at the Beaty Biodiversity museum, and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, it's no wonder Hunter’s deeply complex and beautifully written novel required a little over a decade to complete.
Wildly ambitious in its scope, The World Before Us seamlessly intertwines three separate storylines conveying how isolated events permeate and connect together despite differences in time and location.
When asked to describe her novel, Hunter responded with: “The dead are following you around, but it’s not a book about zombies. It’s an examination of how the past infiltrates the present and the way it affects individuals, communities and institutions on a day-to-day basis, as though it’s alive and vital. Like a living thing.”
Her novel follows the life of Jane Standen, who at 15 lost the five year old she was minding during a walk through the woods. As an adult, Jane works as an archivist for a British Museum that will subsequently lose its funding, and rushes to complete one final project on a woman who escaped a Victorian asylum 125 years ago.
“The original title was 'A History of the Affections’. One of the things I was trying to stitch through in the book was how affection is what matters. And not like the romantic kind of affection but seeing another human being as a human being. When I sift through what matters to me in this world personally, it's just kindness and being seen and being regarded.”