My rating: 4 of 5 stars to Kate Morton‘s The Distant Hours, a beautifully written and compelling story of sisters, mothers and daughters across two different time periods set in London and rural England.
Why This Book?
I’d read one of her other books, The Forgotten Garden, and fell in love with Kate Morton‘s style, effortless reads and vivid settings and characters. I had to continue absorbing as much of her books as I could, but given they are usually 500+ pages, and quite intense, I have to layer them in every few months. I happened to arrive in my building’s laundry room a few minutes early and perused the library’s bookshelves while waiting for the dryer to complete its cycle. Low an’ behold, there she stood.
Some kind soul had dropped off this book and it beckoned me to depart quickly with it. Well… as soon as I finished getting all my clothes out of the dryer. It sat on my living room’s bookshelves for a few weeks, until I’d seen a review of it this week and decided to move it up on my TBR list. SO GLAD I DID!
Overview of Story
Edie Burchill, a thirty year old book lover working in the publishing industry, recently split from her live-in boyfriend, is visiting her parents one weekend when a letter arrives in the mail, postmarked nearly 50 years ago. Edie’s mother, Meredith, tells her very little, only that it came from one of the Blythe sisters who live at Milderhurst Castle where Meredith stayed as an evacuee during WWII’s German Blitz. Though Edie and her mother aren’t very close, she knows Meredith hasn’t told her the entire story. And when Edie finds herself driving near the castle, and an opportunity to take a tour arises, she jumps on it. Inside Edie meets 85ish twins, Saffy and Percy, who care for their much younger sister, Juniper who is in her early 70s. All is not well with Juniper, who thinks Edie is actually Meredith from nearly 50 years ago. Edie visits local historians, presses her mother’s family and becomes closer to the twin sisters, in hopes she’ll discover what hides behind her mother’s wistful eyes. And as she falls deeper in the story, she learns of a broken engagement, a missing fiancee, a long-lost love, a crazy author, an affair and a few mysterious deaths. Not to mention the mystery of the “mud man” who the sisters’ father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a famous fiction (or was it?) story nearly 70 years before.
Approach & Style
The book alternates time periods every few chapters, showing what happened in 1939-1941 and what is happening currently in the 1990s. Chapters take on different points of view and focus from all of the core characters: Raymond Blythe. His 3 daughters, Saffy, Percy and Juniper. Edie spends time with her parents and her mother’s sister Rita. Mr. Cavill, the missing fiancee, has his own stories and connections, and his family is still looking for him in current time. The stories and characters unfold chapter by chapter, leading readers to discover all the covert relationships and actions that have occurred to bring everything to current times.
Kate Morton is quickly becoming my favorite author. Her writing style, though a little exaggerated and too lyrical at times, is astoundingly beautiful. You will always picture the setting, the views and the backdrops. Her choice of words ranges from intoxicating to phenomenal. And her ability to stop the story at just the right moment before switching to a different character or point of view is dazzling. And sometimes, it’s not even a cliffhanger or point of suspense; it’s a mere change to give you a chance to breathe and let your imagination run free for a bit.
The plot is intricate, realistic and intense. You question with each chapter the motivation of the good people and the sentiment of the bad people. You wonder why they make the decision they make, only to find out later, you should never second guess it. I can imagine Morton writes very detailed outlines over several months, determining when to drop certain hints, and when to hold back for a complete and utter shock. She’s clearly writing in a forum and a genre that is well-suited to her strengths.
Open Questions & Concerns
At times, the story is a little too unclear. In 90% of the cases, it works to your advantage as your suspense and thrill increases; however, every so often, it goes a little too far, unravels more than it needs to and opens itself up to a few too many questions that don’t fully find resolution. In particular, with the ending of this one, I wasn’t sure of a connection to make with the delay that happens on the bus (no spoilers here!)… that said, it’s easily forgiven, but this reader wanted it a little more tidied up.
Empathy for the character of Juniper should have been a stronger theme. Readers will feel attached to her, but when you discover what truly happened to her in the end, and how it seems so much could have been prevented, you wonder whether she was just there to suffer. A tweak here and there might have made this a little more acceptable, but then again, reality doesn’t always work that way either. People have a misguided notion they are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
If you love flowery language, tremendous detail and an ethereal quality in a story, you must read Morton’s books. And this one in particular shows the push/pull between siblings and parents and children, all the things you never know even though you live together for so many years. We are all different people and despite sharing so much in common, our relationships are unique. This books shows us how to question why a sister can control another, how a mother can choose not to truly love her child… and how a man could go crazy over losing so much in a lifetime.
Go into this one expecting a long and intense journey, and you will be pleased. Go into this hoping for a thrilling ride of great leaps and shocks, you will be disappointed. This is not about how dastardly someone has behaved; this is about how people disappoint one another when they least expect to.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures.
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