≡ Menu

Thoughts on “The Distant Hours” by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is the first of Morton’s novels I’ve read. I’ve heard high praise for her earlier books, so when the opportunity to read the ARC for The Distant Hours presented itself, I took it. This eagerly anticipated new novel from Kate Morton is out today.

About the Book:

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (cover)The contents of a long lost mail bag are found and delivered fifty years after they should’ve been. Edie Burchill is visiting her parents when a long forgotten letter comes for her mother, Meredith. Clearly rattled by the letter’s arrival, Meredith explains that she, like many children, was sent away during World War II, to stay with a family in the country. Separated from her siblings, Meredith was taken in by the three Blythe sisters who lived in ancient Milderhurst Castle. The sisters, it turns out, are none other than the daughters of the late Raymond Blythe, author of The True History of the Mud Man, one of Edie’s most treasured childhood novels.

When Edie, lost on her way back to London, stumbles on the village of Milderhurst and its infamous castle, she is drawn to the old house and her mother’s connection with it. She arranges to take a tour, and her journey into the heart of both her own family’s history and that of the Blythes begins. From letters, journals, gossip, and conversations with the sisters themselves, Edie begins to construct an increasingly intricate picture of the Blythe family, The Secret History of the Mud Man, and her own mother’s past.

My Thoughts:

Any book over 500 pages makes me narrow my eyes suspiciously. There is so much room for extraneous things in a book that size. I was pleasantly surprised to find nothing extraneous whatsoever in The Distant Hours. It’s so long because Morton doesn’t just focus on a few main mysteries. Instead, she weaves in all manner of smaller unknowns that click into place one by one, usually just when the reader has nearly forgotten about them completely. The result is an extremely complex and masterfully woven plot that doesn’t sort itself out until the very last pages.

The novel is broken into five parts. Each part is broken into chapters of two types: there are Edie’s chapters, which bear names instead of numbers, and there are flashback chapters, numbered and dated. I thought at first that the flashback chapters were Edie’s reconstruction of the story, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case. The flashbacks tell what really happened, clarifying some mysteries even Edie never solves. These historical chapters could be a separate novel in and of themselves.

Morton does an amazing job drawing all of her characters. Even the minor ones, from the Blythes’ housekeeper to the town gossip to Edie’s boss, are vivid and real. Yet the full cast of characters doesn’t detract from the story. I was never confused about who was who, and by the novel’s end I had a good sense of where each character fit into the story.

The character who holds the story together is Edie, and she was, I think, my favorite. Edie works at a small publishing house. She is a lifelong reader and book lover. Coupled with the Blythe family’s literary legacy, Edie lends a literary air to The Distant Hours that I relished. Narnia, Hansel and Gretel, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, King Lear, Dostyoevsky, The Woman in White, Jekyll and Hyde, and many other characters and books are mentioned. Edie manages to bond with her father, a staunch non-reader, over a novel. Upon entering a bookstore, Edie does exactly what I do: she checks to make sure all her favorite authors are present. No need to take the volumes from the shelves–it’s enough just to know they’re there. Edie’s bookishness was a lovely bonus for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Distant Hours. While no book is without its flaws, there is no one thing about The Distant Hours that stuck out to me as being off. I would not hesitate to recommend The Distant Hours to anyone interested, and I hope to check out Morton’s backlist for myself in the near future.

Your Turn!

Have you read anything by Kate Morton, or another book with a similarly complex contemporary-plus-historical mystery?

Worth sharing?
Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on Google+Buffer this page

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com Amanda

    You know, I don’t really read a lot of historical or mystery but that actually sounds interesting, especially since you say there’s nothing extraneous in the book!

    • Erin

      Well, it was only really half historical (Edie’s story stays in the present) and mysterious more than a mystery (uncovering a family’s past), I suppose!

      As I was writing my review, I kept trying to think of some character or minor plot point that was abandoned or left unresolved. I couldn’t think of anything. There are certainly extra layers that could have been left out, but the book wouldn’t have been as rich without them and I didn’t find them distracting or confusing at all.

  • Pingback: Book news, reviews, and musings 10 Nov 2010 | Read in a Single Sitting - Book reviews and new books()

  • http://www.bostonbibliophile.com Marie

    Sounds like an interesting book; I like how compactly you say it’s written, w/out extras. that’s amazing considering the length!

    • Erin

      It was definitely interesting! I guess I should clarify…there are certainly pieces of the book that could have been omitted: minor characters, extra storylines. In some books, such additional elements can feel overkill, confusing, and unnecessary. But in The Distant Hours, they were so well handled that they added to rather than distracted from the story. I never found myself wondering why so-and-so was included or why such-and-such storyline was left dangling. Morton made sure everything had a place, so nothing felt extraneous.

  • http://homeofaimala.blogspot.com/ Amy

    I haven’t read anything by Kate Morton yet but I want to very much. Her books, all of them are on my tbr list and I hope to at least start reading one very soon. The size of the books is why I hesitate to pick one up immediately. I was happy to read your terrific review of The Distant Hours and discover that you really enjoyed thisd book.

    I hope to read it before the others but may choose them because they are paperback.
    (I’m saving your review for when I’ve read The Distant Hours!)
    ~ Amy

    • Erin

      The size scared me too, Amy! It didn’t feel nearly as long as it looked, though. It held my attention all the way through, and there came a point when it was really hard to drag myself away. I’ve heard really good things about her other books as well, so I have a feeling whichever one you start with will be good!

  • http://readingadventures.blogspot.com Marg

    I have enjoyed the other books I have read by this author, and I am very much looking forward to reading this one! Just need it to hurry up and arrive at the library.

    • Erin

      Ah, the library…so good until you have to wait forever for a new and popular title! I’m absolutely planning to read Morton’s others. If they are anywhere near as good as The Distant Hours, I’ll enjoy them immensely!

  • http://www.fizzythoughts.com softdrink

    I’m laughing at your narrowed, suspicious eyes. I do the same thing. Glad to see some books are meant to be that long!

    • Erin

      Glad I’m not the only one! In this case, the length was totally ok with me.

  • http://www.thingsmeanalot.com/ Nymeth

    I like the sound of this, but I had such a bad experience with Morton’s The Forgotten Garden that I hesitate to try her again :\

    • Erin

      Uh oh, that’s the first I’ve heard of a bad experience with any of Morton’s novels! I don’t blame you for not wanting to try another. I have authors like that. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

  • http://nomadreader.blogspot.com nomadreader (Carrie)

    I’m really looking forward to this one! If you want other recommendations for historical/contemporary/mystery, I really enjoyed Christi Phillips The Rosetti Letter and The Devlin Diary (read Rosetti first).

    • Erin

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve seen Phillips’s books in stores before, but this is the first I’ve heard regarding their content.

  • http://litandlife.blogspot.com Lisa

    I’m really enjoying The Forgotten Garden and am glad to hear that I will not be disappointed if I pick up another Morton book.

    • Erin

      And I’m happy to hear Morton’s other novels (or The Forgotten Garden, at least) are good as well!

  • http://lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I’ve not read any of her books yet but, like you, kept hearing good things about them. I have one here to try and hope to get to it soon.

    • Erin

      Ooh, when you get to it, I’ll be interested to hear what you think!

  • val

    I absolutely loved reading Kate moretons first 2 books and couldn’t wait for the distant hours, I purchased it on first day of release, but struggled with size of book and dragged out story, had to finish it but although I love the mystery and change from past to present in her books the distant hours was a disappointment.

    • Erin

      I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed with The Distant Hours! I just purchased a copy of The House at Riverton and am looking forward to reading it. I’m glad to hear you loved Morton’s two earlier novels.