November 2012 Club

The Unseen

The Unseen by Katherine Webb is part Downton Abbey, part murder mystery and explores issues such as the suffragette movement and theosophy.

Set in two time frames – 2011 and 1911 – in a sleepy Berkshire village (which happens to be the home of SQ hq), a newly married vicar and his wife are settling into almost contented married life. The vicar’s wife, Hester Canning, is sent an unruly, spirited, educated maid from London called Cat Morley. Although Cat causes some disruption to the household, it’s not nearly as disturbing as the arrival of charismatic but manipulative house guest, Robin Durrant.

Durrant is an ardent theosophist, desperate to make his name in this field, and would do anything to prove the existence of Elementals – nature spirits – in the water meadows around the village. He draws the vicar into his doomed quest by his magnetic personality, and it becomes obvious that the vicar is strongly attracted to him, with dire consequences for his marriage and the entire household.

There are several subplots, including Cat’s appalling treatment in gaol for her considerably minor suffragette activities. And the entire 1911 plot unfolds due to the investigations of a journalist seeking to find the meaning of some letters discovered on the body of a First World War soldier.

It was fascinating to hear the descriptions of places I’m so familiar with. There is a village near Thatcham called Cold Ash, but it’s north of the town rather than south-east as Cold Ash Holt appears to be. I’m guessing the author did this to move the action nearer to the water meadows and canal and make it a purely fictional village. The Old Bluecoat school and The Ploughman’s pub still exist and are about quarter of a mile from SQ hq. The Old Bluecoat School – now used for community projects such as a knitting group and pop-up art gallery.

Colourway inspiration

Admittedly, it was a bit of a challenge to come up with colourways, if only because the novel was set in high summer, and we’re in the depths of winter in this neck of the woods.

For the semi-solid option, I went for green to reflect the green blur of fields, nettles, deep green rushes, cow parsley, dock, weeping willow and high summer grasses. “Even the air seems to carry a green scent”. Cat is greeted by swathes of green and after dirty, stinky London, it seems like an alien place.

 There were variations in green between the dye batches of Water Meadows for those interested in swapping.

For the variegated option, I wanted to represent the Nature spirits – elemental beings – hobgoblins – undines – water elementals –  whatever you’d like to call them. So I added the palest dyes to the yarn randomly  in raw form in tiny quantities – blue, green and teal with just hints of pink and purple – in an attempt to create an ethereal, watery effect.

I went for a slightly unusual yarn – BFL with neps of Donegal wool – which in the semi-solid green, represent the rushes and reeds of the water meadows. And for the variegated option, adds little areas of mystery and movement.