Review: The Unseen World by Liz Moore

the_unseen_worldLength: 452 pages

Publication: July 26th 2016 by W. W. Norton & Company

Source: Library

What it’s about:

The moving story of a daughter’s quest to discover the truth about her beloved father’s hidden past.

Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues. Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will keep the reader riveted until The Unseen World’s heart-stopping, fascinating conclusion.

What I thought:

I should say from the start that Liz Moore’s previous novel, Heft, is one of my favorites books of all time. I fell in love with it while listening to the audiobook a few years ago, and so I came to her latest work with high expectations. While I ended up appreciating the book a lot, it was a slow starter and I might not have finished it if I didn’t have such faith in her writing. I’m glad I did.

The story is told from the point of view of Ada, and for the first half of the book the action takes place in Boston in the 1980’s when Ada is in her early teenage years. The pace at which the novel establishes Ada’s life and situation is slow…to say the least. Like her father, Ada is a very cerebral person,  and nothing really happens in the first half with the exception of what is going on in Ada’s mind.

Because she has been rather sheltered in her quiet life alone with her father, Ada has a hard time interacting with the outside world of her teenage peers. Instead, her true peers are the colleagues who work in her father’s computer lab, which has served as the only school she has known up until this point. When David, Ada’s father, begins to experience health problems, Ada is forced to move outside her comfort zone and learn to live in the “real” world of high school and beyond.

Once Ada’s circumstances change, things start to pick up. She learns that there are secrets in her father’s past and this shakes the foundations of her quiet life. The second half of the novel switches back and forth between the perspectives of young Ada and an older Ada, all while gradually revealing David’s story. There is enough action to keep the reader interested and it moves along quickly to a conclusion which resonates with the truth of who both Ada and David are as people.

I particularly enjoyed the technical aspects of the book, including the descriptions of David’s lab and work and the parallels between what he and Ada value and try to achieve. The ending wraps things up in a way that is complete and satisfying, even going beyond Ada and David’s stories to reveal a larger truth about the world–as all truly great novels do.

As I think back over the novel, I wish that the first half could have been written in a way that established the story without dragging it down. The change in perspective in the second half made for a much more interesting reading experience, and if there had been a way to do that from the beginning without giving too much away, I think the novel would have benefited from it. Still, all in all I enjoyed the book and will look forward to reading more from Liz Moore in the future.

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