I’ve just finished reading Kate Morton’s latest novel, The Distant Hours, the release of which caused me a great deal of excitement and anticipation. I’ve always been a huge fan of Morton’s so it was safe to say that my expectations with this novel were fairly high.
So I find myself surprised to say that this review is a mixed one, that instead of a rave review praising this latest piece of work, I found my feelings towards the novel at times sundry. And after finishing the book, hard to categorise into one particular opinion. In fact at times I was even worried that the charm and hold that Morton had once exerted over me might be waning.
So what made me feel like that? Especially after such a promising start to the story? In the opening chapters of the novel the story begins with an excerpt from the story ‘The True History Of The Mud Man’, here I thought, was the stuff Morton fans dream of. Magical, make-believe stories mixed within the novel to heighten the sense of intrigue and fantasy. The arrival of a letter from the past, seemingly appearing at random in the present, also sparked my interest and my senses were instantly alight.
Yet despite this hopeful start, for me the novel’s opening magic soon began to evade me. The seed of doubt began for me in the integral character of Eddie Burchill.
Burchill is one of the novels central characters, she is also the main point of narration. She forms an important link between the sisters Blythe, alone in their tower harbouring their mysterious and strange secrets, and the present day. Through the key link of her mother and her ties to the castle, Eddie embarks on a journey unearthing the truth of the sisters and their rich tapestry of history.
Eddie is an undisputedly important character and therefore a dominant force within the tale. Arguably it is important then for the reader to form a connection to this character? I sadly did not. And I wonder now, did this form part of my sometimes lack lustre reaction to the novel?
As I’ve said the novel opens with a passage from a children’s story ‘The True History Of The Mud man’. We then switch to the present day in which Eddie’s mother receives a letter from her past, arriving many years later from when it was sent and causing an unusual reaction in her mother. We learn that Meredith, Eddies mother, was an evacuee at Milderhurst castle, the same castle from which this letter has been sent. Eddie, who is depicted as having an inquisitive mind instantly takes an interest in the castle and it’s owners. A seemingly random opportunity then presents itself delivering Eddie at the very same castle, her intrigue is ensured and thus she begins researching and delving into the past. We learn, through Eddie, about the sisters; their individual personalities are unfolded and with this their interlinking pasts, their clandestine mysteries.
As always in Morton’s work there’s plenty of scandal and secrecy. Morton writes great plots, she knows how to spark interest and create compelling characters who’s secrets become compelling and urgent to her readers.
I’ve said previously that Eddies character became a slight bone of contention for me. I understand her fundamental importance to the novel in linking past and present. In revealing and brining to light the truth of the sisters and their history. Yet for me the story really is the sisters Blythe’s story. They are the characters I connected with, it was their story I wanted to hear, and therefore the intermittent switch between Eddie and the sisters proved frustrating for me. I found her character, and I must be honest her, clichéd. Her descriptions of the world around her rather predictable, generic. The way she recounts her findings and experiences whilst on this journey of discovery are told in her flowery, almost innocent language. For me this lessened the ominous, gothic feelings inspired by the castle. Eddie, although on a path of discovery, didnt under go any drastic changes, her character didnt develop in complexity. For me she simply remained an inquisitive mind, intrigued by findings that linked to her past. This could have made for some great character development, a more interesting impact on her own past perhaps? Instead the implications of uncovering are limited and I felt that it wasnt until the very end that they really marked her at all. In comparison to the thrill of learning about the sisters and reading of their encounters and experiences I found Eddie’s life rather trivial.
As I’ve said the story is told in a switching fashion; from past to future. A style I enjoy for it’s freshness and ability to portray varying view points. Yet in this story my inability to connect with Eddie meant the constant changes back to her life and narration threw me off my course with the story. The interest and intrigue that gradually built up with the sisters would wan again when I switched back to Eddies viewpoint. Maybe that’s just me though, maybe the simplicity of her character only acts to shine more light on Milderhurst and it’s inhabitants?
Thankfully the last chapters of the novel are mostly told in the past, when the hints and glimpses of hidden secrets are revealed. Finally I felt able to truly emerge myself in Morton’s fictional world and it’s here that I have to praise the novel.
Love, loss, devotion, deception are all allowed to blossom, and we even finally feel some of the gothic magical mystery surrounding the castle, that I had longed for but felt denied in middle part of the story. New life is breathed and I devoured the final chapters. I don’t think fans of Morton’s style will be disappointed with how the plot concludes. In particular the intricate and special relationships that connect all three sisters was for me heart warming and touching. In her reservation to reveal too much of the sisters secrets and their unusual happenings in the first part of the novel the reader will be overwhelmed in a truly positive way to finally find out the truth about these women.
And thankfully at this stage I was able to really appreciate the novel. For me the finishing chapters were a pleasure to read, Morton’s charming writing style and really broke through here and the world of the Blythe sisters really came into play.
Have you read the novel? Are you a fan of Morton and did you feel similar feelings? Or do you disagree and did you enjoy the story.
Please let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts.