counter create hit The Great Unknown - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

The Great Unknown

Availability: Ready to download

What is your name? Where did you come from? And where are you going? In this immersive novel set in 1840s Britain and France, these questions probe at the essence of what it means to be human. A wet nurse in a lively Scottish household goes by an assumed name but longs to know the identity of her father. A quarryman furtively extricates a remarkable fossil from an island of What is your name? Where did you come from? And where are you going? In this immersive novel set in 1840s Britain and France, these questions probe at the essence of what it means to be human. A wet nurse in a lively Scottish household goes by an assumed name but longs to know the identity of her father. A quarryman furtively extricates a remarkable fossil from an island off the Northumberland coast and promptly smuggles it abroad to Paris. A sensational best-selling book that shatters cherished notions about the universe and everything in it triggers widespread argument and speculation—but its author’s name is a well-guarded secret. Another book, roundly ignored, neatly sets forth in an obscure appendix the principle that will become the centerpiece of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. All these threads—some historical, others fictional—converge and illuminate one another in unexpected ways in the climactic revelations of this brilliant story.


Compare
Ads Banner

What is your name? Where did you come from? And where are you going? In this immersive novel set in 1840s Britain and France, these questions probe at the essence of what it means to be human. A wet nurse in a lively Scottish household goes by an assumed name but longs to know the identity of her father. A quarryman furtively extricates a remarkable fossil from an island of What is your name? Where did you come from? And where are you going? In this immersive novel set in 1840s Britain and France, these questions probe at the essence of what it means to be human. A wet nurse in a lively Scottish household goes by an assumed name but longs to know the identity of her father. A quarryman furtively extricates a remarkable fossil from an island off the Northumberland coast and promptly smuggles it abroad to Paris. A sensational best-selling book that shatters cherished notions about the universe and everything in it triggers widespread argument and speculation—but its author’s name is a well-guarded secret. Another book, roundly ignored, neatly sets forth in an obscure appendix the principle that will become the centerpiece of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. All these threads—some historical, others fictional—converge and illuminate one another in unexpected ways in the climactic revelations of this brilliant story.

30 review for The Great Unknown

  1. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    What does it mean to be human? This premise is explored through different characters connected by a book on human development. Robert Chambers family is spending summer outside Edinburgh as their house in the city is being renovated. They have eight children and one infant, whom they struggle to feed as milk sickens him. A wet nurse is hired. As busy as they are, they are excited about a book exploring natural law of creation. Mrs. MacAdam, the wet-nurse, is living with them. She is still nursing What does it mean to be human? This premise is explored through different characters connected by a book on human development. Robert Chambers family is spending summer outside Edinburgh as their house in the city is being renovated. They have eight children and one infant, whom they struggle to feed as milk sickens him. A wet nurse is hired. As busy as they are, they are excited about a book exploring natural law of creation. Mrs. MacAdam, the wet-nurse, is living with them. She is still nursing her one twin child. She lost the other. Their summer house came with a gardener, Mr. Gunn, who doesn’t like children. He also has a drinking problem. One day, he saw the wet-nurse reading the book about the origin of creation. He borrowed the same book six months earlier and read it overnight. By now he memorized many passages from it. Robert Burns is a farmer and avid reader with a plow in his hands and a book in his pocket. Lady Janet, a connection of Mr. Chamber’s brother’s wife, is now staying with Chambers as she is poor. They can’t turn her out, so they patiently suffer her company. As Mr. Stevenson, stone merchant, searches for a valuable stone on Coquet Isle during the day, he fills his evenings with reading a book about history of creation. It seems as there is no end to the characters and no beginning of the plot. An intriguing book sounds as a golden thread – enough for a good plot, but it seems as plot is missing. At some points, the story is very dialogue driven. – I felt disconnected. When it is character driven, I felt connected. There is no doubt that the story is penned by a talented writer. However personally, I prefer more cohesive stories with less rather than more dialogue. And this story is so opposite of what I like to read. Therefore, don’t get discourage from reading this book by this review. Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Flynn

    I picked this book up from the ARC pile at work months ago knowing nothing about it, but drawn to it because it is set in 1845 England (mostly Scotland, as it turned out, with a bit of Paris). Would it be historically accurate? Was it based on real people and events? I had no idea going in. I had trouble getting going. Usually by the 10 percent mark you want to sort of know what the central question of the story is, but I felt that could not be said in this case. We'd met a large, quirky family I picked this book up from the ARC pile at work months ago knowing nothing about it, but drawn to it because it is set in 1845 England (mostly Scotland, as it turned out, with a bit of Paris). Would it be historically accurate? Was it based on real people and events? I had no idea going in. I had trouble getting going. Usually by the 10 percent mark you want to sort of know what the central question of the story is, but I felt that could not be said in this case. We'd met a large, quirky family of progressive and intellectual Scots, along with some of their friends; a learned but very angry gardener; and a mysterious wet-nurse, Constantia, who seemed to be the focus of the story. I wasn't hooked at the 10 percent mark but I made myself press on. Even 30 percent in it was not really clear what the story was really going to be, though by then it was clear that the writing was lovely and the author had done tremendous research. The progressive family likes to discuss the topics of the day, among themselves and with their friends at the many social gatherings they hold, while the gardener knows a lot about plants, and Constantia, an orphan with a murky past, is puzzling over the fact that the baby boy she's feeding has an extra digit on his hands and feet, and remembering her childhood in India. We learn about the current state of fossil-hunting, the Chartist movement, geology, homing pigeons, botany, Sir Walter Scott, Bonnie Prince Charlie, women's fashion, bagpipe music, lighthouse keeping, and much more. There's this book that everyone in the household is reading, that anticipates the ideas of Darwin (which will not be published for another 15 years or so), and a mystery about who wrote the book, since it was anonymously published. One of the typical pleasures of historical fiction is how it takes you to a distant place and time and supplies the learning almost effortlessly, embedded within the story. There is certainly a lot to learn from this book. What it seemed to lack for me was narrative urgency, and an sense of how all the parts were fitting together. When Constantia finally leaves the home (after a sad event involving the baby that I did not see coming and seemed to serve no narrative function other than getting her out of Scotland) things pick up rapidly, and a rapid series of unlikely coincidences leads her to learn the truth about her past. Which, along with getting back to her husband, seems like the thing she'd most wanted all along. The reasons for her secrecy about who she is and whom she's married to finally are made clear, there's a series of happy developments, and the plot points are all brought together in satisfactory fashion. The role of coincidence and chance is acknowledged and nodded at. It's very artful. All the elements are here, in short, for a novel that should have been more compelling than it was, and I am trying to figure out why. I think there is a lesson about story here. No one's problems are quite dire enough to drive the plot, or they are not presented in a way as to seem so. Constantia, although interested in her own origins, isn't suffering in any practical way from not knowing them. The nosy, judgmental house guest keeps intimating that the wet-nurse has some dark secret, but the progressive family ignores her, so that possible complication doesn't really go anywhere. Another difficulty is that we as readers know as little about Constantia's more immediate secret (where is her husband, why can't she talk to him, does he actually exist) as the family, so the main character remains a cipher to us in many ways for much of the story. And I think for this reason it is hard to enter into her problems. As mentioned, they are not practical ones -- she is housed and fed, surrounded by kind people. Her problems are internal: she misses her husband, she wonders who her real father is, she wonders what the deal with her mother really was. But because we are given such a relatively limited access to the interiority of Constantia for much of the opening of the book, it is hard to feel the urgency of her need to know these things.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Nothing happens; and nothing happens; and still nothing happens. Everything remains the same… or so it seems. But the truth is that everything is changing imperceptibly all the time.' The Great Unknown set in the 1840’s Britain and France, forces one to confront the question that has haunted us all from the dawning of time. What does it mean to be me, to be a human being at all? Who am I? What is meant for me? Where do I come from? What does it via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Nothing happens; and nothing happens; and still nothing happens. Everything remains the same… or so it seems. But the truth is that everything is changing imperceptibly all the time.' The Great Unknown set in the 1840’s Britain and France, forces one to confront the question that has haunted us all from the dawning of time. What does it mean to be me, to be a human being at all? Who am I? What is meant for me? Where do I come from? What does it all mean? Am I superior to animals, after-all, aren’t I an animal myself? This was a time when everyone alive was challenging the religious beliefs in the name of scientific discovery. This could be seen as dangerous, questioning what we’re meant to blindly believe. Science vs God, even now is rocky terrain but then it could be downright sacrilege. Then there is the Chartist movement, whose goal during this time was to gain rights and political influence for the working class, which naturally upset the upper classes. Surely you can’t let just anyone have sway in politics, how can the average man carry any weight in the important decisions of one’s time? Everyone has their own view on this. The novel begins with wet nurse, Mrs. Constantia MacAdam, providing milk for an infant born to a merry, wealthy family- the Chambers. Welcomed into the fold more like a friend than a servant, she grieves the loss of her own twin infant boy while nourishing her surviving twin daughter and the Chamber’s son, born with extra fingers and toes. We learn her name isn’t quite her own, for her past is shadowed by the loss of her mother when she was a little girl, while no true history of her real father remains. Living in a household filled with people of a curious, questioning nature, it’s impossible to not be disturbed by her own bottomless pit of mystery. Separated from her own dear husband, in order to give birth to their twins, and for reasons she will keep to herself, communication is precarious between them. Tormented by her mother’s secrecy before her tragic death, her deep love and memories flit about, unable to secure any solid evidence of her own origins. Her beautiful mother, who lived a bohemian existence, raising her in India, keeping her past veiled left her with endless questions. Is life a twist of fate, are we guided by god, is it orderly, disorderly? Others think of Mrs. MacAdams as a French hussy, whose terrible fashion sense certainly speaks loudly for her worth, or lack thereof. Good women do not go by false names, and can it be trusted that she is even married at all? But Mrs. Chambers knows that “folk may have perfectly innocent reasons for preserving a discreet anonymity”. In this household too, children are permitted to read scandalous books, such as the Vestiges. An anonymous book published that dealt with speculative natural history, embraced by polite society, inspiring people’s thinking to turn towards science, before Darwin’s Origin of the Species was published. Naturally to the clergy minded, it was criticized. Nature should be proof of God’s existence, not an argument against it! Throughout this book, evolution is a theme but so too is the strange happenstance that occurs in so many of our lives. Which do we cling to? Is it like Lady Janet believes? That “incalculable harm may be wrought by such a book”? Certainly there can be nothing evil about looking to fossils, to trying to find answers and meaning? Nothing wrong in studying the evolution of creatures, plants… Just as intelligent and progressive as the family, she fits in perfectly- sharing a love of fossils with Mrs.Chambers. It is a novel of not just self discovery but of trying to embrace some sort of order in this, the great unknown. Everyone in the book engages in the new discoveries, even debating geological matters. Each has their say. Political matters account for much of the novel too, as all men who work this earth should have a voice, and risk death to use it. To think what we read can be a threat to the old ways. There is scandal and shame in Mrs. MacAdam’s single mother’s past, but she will, as the strange whims of fate have it, get to the root of the truth. The book began slowly and eventually I began to be more invested in Constantia’s story. There are deeper questions that may exasperate some readers and it can feel like a lesson at school which is great if it’s your fancy and you want to learn about geology, and the shift of scientific thinking among the masses. Publication Date: February 18, 2020 W.W. & Norton Company

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    I won this book on a Goodreads first read giveaway. I want to disclaimer this by saying this is the first book I've read by this author so I didn't realize exactly what I was getting into... This book was unfortunately not my cup of tea. It is a very, very dialogue driven story. It's written in the same manner and style as Jane Austen (and such). And as in her particular style the characters dialogue are what push the story forward. And I honestly feel that's the biggest fault here, the plot takes I won this book on a Goodreads first read giveaway. I want to disclaimer this by saying this is the first book I've read by this author so I didn't realize exactly what I was getting into... This book was unfortunately not my cup of tea. It is a very, very dialogue driven story. It's written in the same manner and style as Jane Austen (and such). And as in her particular style the characters dialogue are what push the story forward. And I honestly feel that's the biggest fault here, the plot takes literally half the book to even "begin" and isn't consistent in moving forward...at all. There are lots of hints that there's something bigger afoot, foreshadowing and all that, but there's so much filler this book is basically a jumble of random, dry encyclopedia knowledge jampacked and written in Jane Austen style writing instead of the novel it claims to be. There is literally page after page of random knowledge and solid blocks of dialogue about things that are not relevant to anything going on with the story (such as a lecture about bagpipes that consumes almost two pages, constant debates about Evolution at dinner (by constant, I mean its literally the only thing they talk about and there are a ton of dinner parties for some reason), and our M/C not even participating in the majority of these events but staying in her room brooding). I enjoy learning basically anything historical and collect random facts like books, but even this couldn't keep my attention. It was just so...DRY. Honestly I thought about DNFing a few times but it felt wrong to do so when the book had so few reviews. I can't say I'd reccomend this, but it might appeal to people who like the classics.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    It was a time of social turmoil. The working man wanted his voice heard in government. The Chartist movement was met with a violent reaction from the powers that be; the leaders were imprisoned or they fled the country. It was an age of science. Gentlefolk became amateur naturalists, collecting specimens of life living and dead. Fossil discoveries caused great wonder. Theories were created to explain the fossil records, some contorted to fit the Christian idea of time and history. Scandalous books It was a time of social turmoil. The working man wanted his voice heard in government. The Chartist movement was met with a violent reaction from the powers that be; the leaders were imprisoned or they fled the country. It was an age of science. Gentlefolk became amateur naturalists, collecting specimens of life living and dead. Fossil discoveries caused great wonder. Theories were created to explain the fossil records, some contorted to fit the Christian idea of time and history. Scandalous books were published suggesting a natural history that upset the Christian hegemony. My Victorian Age professor had our class read pivotal books published in 1859, including The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. The professor told us that the ideas behind Darwin's book had been around; Darwin's genius was to put the puzzle pieces together, grounded in sound scientific research. Darwin dragged his feet publishing his theory, knowing the havoc it would bring. The Great Unknown by Peg Kingman is set in 1846 when people were beginning to think about the questions Darwin finally, publicly, addressed in 1859. There is a mysterious woman at the heart of the novel who goes by the alias Mrs. McAdams. She left her husband and traveled to the city to give birth to twins, one of whom died a month later. She is enlisted to be a wet nurse to a brilliant family who warmly welcomes her. Mrs. McAdams struggles with issues of identity. Her mother's early death left clouded her true paternity. And she wonders about the big questions: are we ruled by chance, nature, or God? What does it mean to be human? What separates us from other creatures? Several books are central in the novel, books that arouse deep thoughts from the characters. One is the 1845 best-selling, iconoclastic Vestiges of the National History of Creation. Another is the 1831 On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, which sounds like a yawner, but its appendix included a discussion of natural selection. Vestiges became a best-seller. It appears and reappears in the novel, traveling from hand to hand. They were dangerous things, book; best locked safely away in cages, like fierce beasts in a menagerie. ~from The Great Unknown by Peg Kingman Mrs. McAdams's backstory is slowly revealed. Her quest to find her natural father takes her on an interesting and surprising journey. She questions many things--why a baby with extra digits is not embraced as an evolutionary improvement; whether things happen by chance or design; if humankind has the power--clearly, it does have the will--to reverse the spinning of the galaxies. The Great Unknown is an idea-driven story, and I found myself intrigued to read on for the questions posed are timeless. As a quilter interested in quilt and fiber history, I was interested in Mrs. McAdam's vocation creating 'bizarres', designs for roller-printed cottons that were popular in the 1840s. Her designs were inspired by the minuscule life she discovered under the powerful new microscopes. Science had even invaded fashion! Colors, too. The newly discovered aniline dyes replaced the plant-based dyes, and new colors rose to popularity: mauve and purple, chrome yellow and orange, and greens that did not fade to blue or tan or rely on arsenic. Our heroine's journey takes her into her past to discover her true family roots before she returns to her husband. All their hopes are realized in a strange and circular way in a satisfying resolution. In the 19th c, science was embraced as a panacea to society's ills, a way to reverse the natural order. Science disturbed the status quo and challenged Biblical authority, upended humanity's place in the universe and scheme of things. But as Mrs. McAdams and we know, it appears that chance is what really rules the universe. I was granted access to a free ebook by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    I read this as an ARC and loved it. The Victorianist in me loved nerding out over all the bits of historical detail. That being said, the minutia can feel like they bog down the book if you aren't interested in that sort of thing. Don't care about Chartist principles or geological debates? This probably isn't a book you'll enjoy. It made me think hard while also entertaining me-- and I love me some good historical fiction.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    The British Isles in the 1840s was an exciting age of exploration of the natural sciences and a trendy pastime for the privileged to explore. But, it was still very much an age of oppression and rigid conformation to religion and strict moral conduct. The story ties a wet nurse to the Chambers family and their brood of inquisitive children, an interesting find of a fossil and the publication of a secretive book that outlines the beginnings of natural sciences apart from church teachings. The ban The British Isles in the 1840s was an exciting age of exploration of the natural sciences and a trendy pastime for the privileged to explore. But, it was still very much an age of oppression and rigid conformation to religion and strict moral conduct. The story ties a wet nurse to the Chambers family and their brood of inquisitive children, an interesting find of a fossil and the publication of a secretive book that outlines the beginnings of natural sciences apart from church teachings. The banter and setting are totally Jane Austen's style as is the characters but then it goes off track with the questions of Constantia's (the wet nurse) background and the hereditary traits of some of the male Chambers children. The author shows an interesting juxtaposition between this age of exploration and maintaining the old moral standards. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Dee

    The liberal, indeed revolutionary, household of the Chambers family is the perfect temporary home for Constantia. Living under an assumed name, temporarily in Edinburgh to deliver her babies, she acts as wet nurse to Mrs. Chambers newborn son. The new state of motherhood brings back vividly Constantia’s color and scent-filled memories of her childhood living in India with her mother. The lively intellectualism of teatime in the busy Chambers household encourages her to question origins: of birth The liberal, indeed revolutionary, household of the Chambers family is the perfect temporary home for Constantia. Living under an assumed name, temporarily in Edinburgh to deliver her babies, she acts as wet nurse to Mrs. Chambers newborn son. The new state of motherhood brings back vividly Constantia’s color and scent-filled memories of her childhood living in India with her mother. The lively intellectualism of teatime in the busy Chambers household encourages her to question origins: of birth, of books, of the natural world itself. Do they matter? Is illegitimacy a sin? Does the author of a book change the book itself? I raced through the end of the novel to know the outcome of the story, but then immediately returned to the beginning to savor the beautiful passages describing its people and places. A 5*+ read. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Mckinney

    Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this ARC! Peg Kingman's "The Great Unknown" manages to be a very surprising combination: it's a historical novel both complicated and entertaining! The complication arises from the weighty topics the book takes on: evolution vs. religion, the meaning of mankind, even the effect of the microscope on women's fashion. The fun be attributed to the realistic and well-crafted time period and the characters - who speak intelligently on e Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this ARC! Peg Kingman's "The Great Unknown" manages to be a very surprising combination: it's a historical novel both complicated and entertaining! The complication arises from the weighty topics the book takes on: evolution vs. religion, the meaning of mankind, even the effect of the microscope on women's fashion. The fun be attributed to the realistic and well-crafted time period and the characters - who speak intelligently on everything from geology to territorial marking via dung -- all without feeling preachy or pedantic. I can also credit Kingman's book with making me want to pick up "Victorian Sensation" which discusses the great unknown author at the center of the book. Any book that leads to other books is a great find!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    This one is a challenge to categorize as well as to read- and it won't be for everyone. Set in 1840s UK and France, it offers insight more into the Chartist movement (not familiar? I was only vaguely cognizant and had to do some googling) and class issues than it does into its characters, which among them Constantia, the wet nurse. There isn't a straight line narrative plot and it's dialogue heavy as the characters (and there are a lot of them) debate. I learned a bit more than I expected about This one is a challenge to categorize as well as to read- and it won't be for everyone. Set in 1840s UK and France, it offers insight more into the Chartist movement (not familiar? I was only vaguely cognizant and had to do some googling) and class issues than it does into its characters, which among them Constantia, the wet nurse. There isn't a straight line narrative plot and it's dialogue heavy as the characters (and there are a lot of them) debate. I learned a bit more than I expected about a variety of things such as bagpipers. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I found this insightful and thought provoking - perfect for fans of literary fiction.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Johns

    I enjoyed this. The time and place were wonderful to delve into and I felt brought back in time with the language and tone Ms. Kingman used throughout to paint the several scenic landscapes and backdrops. Although a little slow in the beginning, I think in the end I found that an enjoyable quirk that helped me dive into the time (1840s). Everything feel into place and highlights the enduring debate between chance and destiny.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    I won this books as part of the Goodreads Giveaways. This book contained a bunch of stuffy drivel and filler that detracted from the book. Essentially, the first half of the book seemed unnecessary. However, once you get past the drivel, the rest of the book is one mystery after another. It was fun and exciting to try and guess how this story would develop and end. I am happy I stuck it out and read it to completion.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    A history of natural philosophers, and fabric fashion, and travel, and life in general, wrapped in a little fictional intrigue and plotting. I was inspired to look up Vestiges, and bizarre fabric, and thus exceeded by 3 or 4 articles my usual outside reading for a novel. I learned a lot, and eventually got into the slow tempo of the writing, but only stuck with it because of my interest in evolutionary theory (and The Outlander, truth be told).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    A lively, intelligent family and those connected with them explore the ideas of evolution amidst their daily lives. This story is told from the perspectives of a gardener, a fugitive, a wet nurse, and upper-class women and children. Humor, family secrets, fossils, life in India and mysteries add color to this sometimes lofty, sometimes homey story.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Not worth the time. The cover art is lovely.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Yezak

    An interesting read where life is way more complicated than it first appears.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Vonne Learmonth

    Not in the mood for this during Level 4 Lockdown

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ally

    What does it mean to be human? I'm still not quite sure after reading this book. The characters in the book are initially promising (Mrs. McAdam and the children of Mrs. Chambers) but to be honest, this book has no plot. The book is comprised of musings and random scenes that are predominantly inconsequential and sluggish. The big "tie in" of the individual story lines at the end of the novel is okay but, personally, wasn't gratifying. Besides the lack of plot, the style of the book is pedantic a What does it mean to be human? I'm still not quite sure after reading this book. The characters in the book are initially promising (Mrs. McAdam and the children of Mrs. Chambers) but to be honest, this book has no plot. The book is comprised of musings and random scenes that are predominantly inconsequential and sluggish. The big "tie in" of the individual story lines at the end of the novel is okay but, personally, wasn't gratifying. Besides the lack of plot, the style of the book is pedantic and not meant for casual readers. There is not much else to say about the novel except that I unfortunately wouldn't recommend it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Annie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Denise

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ailih

  25. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenifer

  27. 4 out of 5

    Viviana Ploper

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Scott

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katline Craig

  30. 5 out of 5

    Travis Stone

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.