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