The World Was All Before Them by Matthew Reynolds

In brief: The story of Philip and Sue over one year, told over four periods of time.

The good: Loved how Philip and Sue’s lives intertwined and we learned a lot about them through the short glimpses into their day-to-day life.

The not-so-good: The jumping around from thoughts to action to thoughts takes some time to settle into.

Why I chose it: Sent to me by Bloomsbury Sydney – thank you!

Year: 2013

Pages: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Setting: England

My rating: 7.5 out of 10

The World Was All Before Them is a book that takes a little perseverance, but is well worth it in the end. The book opens somewhat surreally in the midst of an accident on the motorway and initially I wasn’t sure what was going on. As I settled into the narrative, which is told from the third person views of lover Philip and Sue, I was taken over by the story and its unique style. The World Was All Before Them is told almost in a stream of consciousness, the way your thoughts run from one thing to another and another. It took a bit of concentration between the jumps from Philip to Sue and back again, but it was absolutely amazing the amount of things I learned about the couple in the short time frames of each section.

Philip is a doctor, undertaking a locum in a GP surgery for a year. He’s somewhat insecure about his knowledge (or lack of it) and worries about his patients. Over the course of the year of the novel, we meet two patients who highlight Philip’s strengths and weaknesses. Sue commutes to her job in an art gallery in London each day. After a big name artist pulls out of an exhibition, Sue and her colleague try to produce an exhibition themselves. In between all of this, there’s the minutiae of everyday lives and the big decisions that came in-between.

I think The World Was All Before Them is a strong, individual book. Reynolds isn’t afraid to try something different in the narrative, jumping from Philip to Sue and back again quickly. It ended up working for me by not speed reading and just going with the flow. (Perhaps that’s a lesson that applies to other parts of life?) I felt like I became part of Sue and Philip’s lives, like a fly on the wall. I found Philip’s insecurity to be rather interesting – you don’t really expect doctors to be this way – and the way he bottled it up alone made me want to comfort him. I think Philip helps to show that it’s okay not to know everything.

In comparison, Sue seemed much more secure within herself, demonstrated by her massive undertaking of a whole exhibition. She has a sensitive side that balanced Philip out nicely, but seemed more aloof to me as a reader. I couldn’t get quite as deeply into her head as Philip’s.

I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something a little bit different that pushes the envelope of your experiences as a reader. The fold out cover is also gorgeous and well worth a look!

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