Author Tags: Fiction, Poetry
Aislinn Hunter's second novel is disturbing even when condensed into one paragraph. When she was fifteen, Jane Standen, the protagonist of The World Between Us (Doubleday 2014 $29.95) lost track of a five-year-old girl she was looking after during a walk in the woods. The child has never been found. As an adult, working in the archives of a cash-strapped London museum, she is researching the mysterious disappearance of a woman who went missing from a Victorian asylum 125 years ago. The two losses converge in a dilapidated country house. It received the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize in 2015. 9780385680646
Aislinn Hunter lived in Ireland for a few years before making her way to British Columbia. She received a BFA in Art History and Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and earned a post-graduate degree at the University of British Columbia. She has taught part-time at both UVic. She has written with an emphasis on Ireland. Her collection of six stories and a novella, What's Left Us (Polestar, 2001), was nominated for the Danuta Gleed First Fiction Award and received the 2003 Foreword Magazine Silver Medal for Fiction. Her poetry collection Into the Hours (Polestar, 2001) won the Gerald Lampert Award and was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Award.
Her first novel Stay (Polestar, 2002) concerns a young Canadian woman's affair with a disgraced Irish academic. It was shortlisted for the Books in Canada/Amazon.ca Best First Novel Prize. First published by Polestar, Stay (Anchor $19.95) was reissued in 2013 in synch with the release of a film version at the Toronto International Film Festival starring Aidan Quinn. The story provides an introspective look at a village outside Galway, Ireland, where Abbey, a young Canadian, has an unconventional, affectionate relationship with Dermot, an older Irish man. If only Dermot could find some way of making her stay…. “A fence,” he thinks. “Everyone should have one. And at that moment Dermot believes it, thinks that his problems might be solved, solvable, if he can contain them, separate them. Mine and yours. The bungalows over there, the cottage over here and Dermot and Abbey in the middle of it, drawn together by a patch of land, wood and wire around them.” 978-0-385-68062-2.
A Peepshow with Views of the Interior (Palimpsest, 2009) is a collection of essays or "lyrical paratexts" (lyrics forms that surround or reinforce a central text) addressing material culture.
CITY/TOWN: Vancouver, BC
DATE OF BIRTH: Oct 6, 1969
PLACE OF BIRTH: Belleville, Ontario
ARRIVAL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: July 1991
EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Teacher of Creative Writing part-time at Kwantlen University College
The Possible Past was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, The Pat Lowther Award & The ReLit Prize for Poetry
Stay was shortlisted for the Books in Canada / Amazon First Novel Award, and was a Globe and Mail “Best Book of the Year”
Into the Early Hours was the winner of the Gerald Lampert Award for Best First Book of Poetry in Canada, and was shortlisted for The Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
What’s Left Us was shortlisted for The Danuta Gleed Fiction Prize and the ReLit Prize for Fiction
Into the Early Hours received the Gerald Lampert Award for Poetry 2002,
The World Before Us (Penguin 2014)
A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: paratexts (Palimpsest, 2009)
A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory (Gaspereau, 2006). By Robert Finley, Patrick Friesen, Aislinn Hunter, Jan Zwicky. $22.95. 1554470307.
Emerge: The Writer's Studio Anthology (anthology), Writing and Publishing Program, Simon Fraser University 2004. Guest editor.
The Possible Past (poetry) Raincoast Books, 2004
Stay (a novel) Raincoast Books, October 2002
Into the Early Hours (poetry) Raincoast Books, October 2001
What's Left Us (a novella and stories) Raincoast Books, April 2001
[BCBW 2013] "Fiction" "Poetry"
Stay (Polestar $21.95)
An introspective look at a village outside Galway, Ireland that follows the relationship between Abbey, a young Canadian and Dermot, an older Irish man. If only Dermot could find some way of making her stay. “A fence,” he thinks. “Everyone should have one. And at that moment Dermot believes it, thinks that his problems might be solved, solvable, if he can contain them, separate them. Mine and yours. The bungalows over there, the cottage over here and Dermot and Abbey in the middle of it, drawn together by a patch of land, wood and wire around them.” Hunter lives in Vancouver with her dog Fiddle. 1-55192-568-0
[Spring 2003 BCBW]
The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter (Doubleday Canada $29.95)
from Cherie Theissen
In 1991, when she was fifteen, jane Standen had an horrific experience. She momentarily lost sight of the little girl she was minding in the woods near the estate of Victorian plant hunter, George Farrington.
Those minutes were all it took for Lily to disappear completely and forever. A sensitive, intelligent daughter of intellectual and gifted parents, Jane, the traumatized and guilty teenager, would have needed considerable parental devotion and dedication to have emotionally survived this nightmare.
She didn’t get it. Her father was a famous violinist, rarely at home; her mother was a respected academic with a busy career. Fifteen years of therapy followed, without much apparent success.
That’s the set-up for The World Before Us. Although Aislinn Hunter doesn’t see herself as a mystery writer, there are lots of unanswered questions in her second novel that will keep readers turning the pages besides what ever happened to the five-year-old Lily Eliot.
Where did that mysterious character known as “N” vanish to? and who was she?
How will Jane Standen react when, after 19 years, she’s confronted with the father of the child she lost?
And, for that matter, who is this voice speaking to us in the first person?
This novel of plaintive chimeras that surround and follow the central character of Jane had a ten-year gestation, partially written and researched while Hunter was studying for her Ph.D in Edinburgh. It twirls between three periods of time:
1877—at the Farrington Asylum for Convalescent Lunatics, (yes, they were called that).
1991—when Lily goes missing.
2010—the present, when thirty-four-year-old Jane is working as an archivist in a London museum that’s about to close permanently.
Lily’s father had been on a field trip studying and photographing the rare plants in the Farrington Estate grounds when he took his daughter and Jane with him on that ill-fated day in 1991. Now he is coming to the museum to read from his book. The research he was doing on that day has finally resulted in The Lost Gardens of England, the current winner of the museum’s Chester-Wood Book Prize.
The Farrington Asylum, long in ruins, is in close proximity to the estate. In 1877, three patients, two men and a woman, managed to wander off, winding up at Farrington House. Curiously, the woman, noted only in the asylum records with the initial “N,”somehow disappeared.
Two disappearances, 114 years apart in the same area, coudn’t possibly be connected. |But Jane, who did her dissertation on archival practices in rural nineteenth century asylums, becomes interested in the fate of “N,” the woman who disappeared in the same woods where Lily slipped through her hands.
She tells herself she’s doing this research because she has a possible book in mind. It’s almost as if Jane’s life has never really started; as if she is still stuck in those woods in 1991, but the reader may feel even more sorry for the invisible spirits—or ghosts or entities—that surround her.
For these aimless spirits, it feels like their nightmare will never end. Waking after death from an uneasy sleep they find themselves in a void without meaning or familiarity, seemingly doomed to try to find parts of what they were before. Yes, somehow Aislinn Hunter manages to make this seem, well, half-plausible.
Desperately clinging to Jane, they sense that she is the only tie to the past they are trying to reassemble. These ghosts have a spokesperson who often speaks to readers in the unusual plural first person. Their connection with Jane is a place: Whitman Asylum.
Across a different century these deceased inmates found her in the surrounding woods that day in 1991. While an alternating point of view from third person to a plural first is unusual and somewhat risky, it works here as Hunter uses the voice to create a sense of mystery, omnipotence and irony.
Unlike many detective and mystery authors who don’t tie up all the ends and forget details, Hunter has not left one idea dangling, one knot untied. Everything links up with the whole. This novel’s plot is cyclonic: events, details, memories, experiences twist together and then fly outward again, reappearing later to once again mesh.
There’s a huge momentum at work in this fiction that remarkably never seems to let up. Themes of the need for human contact, the energy that collects in spaces we consider empty, the resonance that lies in objects.
Nothing is overlooked, every detail seems to slot itself in somewhere, like the past lives the ghosts are trying to locate and make whole again. The World Before Us is a tsunami of a read, meticulously crafted, rich in poetry, insight and heart-breakingly real characters. It’s a rare novel that can ask more questions than it answers and get away with it.
Cherie Thiessen regularly reviews fiction from Pender Island.