Tuesday, 16 August 2011
The Distant Hours - Kate Morton
'It started with a letter.'
In 1992, Edie Burchill is a young lady who has a job she loves, a mother who won't open up, and a newly single life. One day, a long lost letter arrives for Edie's mother, Meredith, which sets the ball rolling to uncover the past which Meredith would rather be kept hidden. As Edie digs deeper, she begins to unlock the secrets of Milderhurst Castle, deep in the heart of Kent, to which Meredith had been evacuated during the war.
Living in Milderhurst Castle are three elderly, lonely sisters: the twins Persephone and Seraphina, and their younger sibling Juniper. Percy and Saffy have spent the last fifty years of their lives looking after Juniper, who lost her mind after being stood up. But the past is never that simple, and it's up to Edie to uncover that which has lain buried for decades, and set things to right.
'The Distant Hours' is a book full of secrets and regrets, resurfacing memories, and the passing of time.
This was the second book by Kate Morton which I have read. I read 'The House at Riverton' a few years ago when it was first published, and although I enjoyed it, I think I was a bit young to fully appreciate it. So it was with both excitement and wariness that I opened the cover of 'The Distant Hours', as I didn't want to be disappointed by lacklustre revelations.
I needn't have worried.
'The Distant Hours' gripped me right from the start. Morton has a very easy-to-read writing style, which I find very compelling. Her vivid descriptions make the words come to life in a way I have never experienced before: she uses every sense to draw the reader in, to be able to truly visualise what they are reading. The great rusting gates beneath Edie's fingers; the thick smell of smoke; the coolness of the water in the pool; the beautiful swish of pink fabric and the treat of a wartime cake all involve the reader and transport you straight to London and Kent as you follow Edie and the other characters on their journeys of discovery.
By the end, the revelations are not disappointing at all, and completely made sense to me. I hadn't imagined exactly what happened, so it was a real surprise which left me both feeling sorry for the Sisters Blythe, yet really understanding under the circumstances. It's amazing just what lengths people would go to to protect themselves and others, and the book as a whole will really make you think about your relationships with members of your family.
The story was very gripping, right from the start. Not in a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat way, but in an 'I want to find out the secrets which this castle holds' kind of way. At 600 pages it is quite a chunky book, but I devoured it quickly and found myself loathe to put it down.
The story jumps about between 1992 with Edie's explorations, and 1939-41 during the war. Each time there is a change of setting it is clearly marked at the beginning, and as long as you take note of the dates you won't be lost. The jumping back and forth isn't confusing in the slightest; instead, it is done very cleverly as just as Edie makes a discovery or a query, the reader is taken back to the time when it actually happened, by way of explanation.
It is told from several different characters' points of view, but again it isn't confusing at all. The name of the character who will be taking you through that section of the book is mentioned within the first few sentences, so you won't be left grasping at straws as you try to guess who you're following.
The characters themselves are all very interesting and dynamic, as Morton has presented them in a very believable way. Again, through her powers of description, the author has given us multi-dimensional characters, all with flaws and saving graces. Percy is fastidiously loyal to both the castle and her family, to the point of being controlling and taking charge of their lives, whilst her twin Saffy has been longing for a life away from the castle, a life of her own. It is just her weakness and her mothering instincts over her sisters which keep her rooted to Milderhurst. Juniper is quite different, with the reader being given fleeting glimpses into the nature of the once captivating and enigmatic girl, who becomes captured, reliving one awful night of her life over and over again. Edie is a thoroughly modern woman, who is discovering the world on her own, and although she has to rely on her rather difficult parents sometimes, grows and develops as a character throughout the book. These are just the main four of the character list, but the others are no less interesting and 'real'. Morton has not just brought the story, the castle, the setting to life: she has brought the characters to life as well.
I get the feeling that some of what Kate Morton has written she has taken from her own experiences. Meredith, Saffy and Juniper all love writing, so when one of them (I don't recall which) makes a mental note to jot down a peculiar characteristic of someone they meet in their writer's journal, I wonder if it is something that Morton has done herself, in the process of writing this book. I hope that makes sense, but even if I'm wrong I get a strong sense that Morton has thrown herself into this book - on her website it says that 'Kate continues to write the sorts of books she can disappear inside'. She has clearly done that in 'The Distant Hours', and she takes the reader with her.
I ended up feeling completely satisfied when I finished the book, as all the loose ends were neatly tied up. All the little hints and clues which are fed to the reader throughout the book, without them ever noticing, all make sense by the end - and it really is by the end, as the last piece of the puzzle only fits into place within the last three or four pages. This is definitely a book which I will be reading again, and I would recommend any other readers doing the same, as there are probably hundreds of subtleties and nuances which go straight over our heads the first time round.
The only - and I mean ONLY - thing I can find fault with in this book is that it contains a number of typing errors. I noticed at least seven which were glaringly obvious to me, such as incorrect punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors, and more. For example, Edie's mother was once referred to as 'Meredity' rather than 'Meredith'. All of the errors which I noticed were obvious things which should have been picked up on numerous times during the publishing process; they clearly haven't heard of proof readers! It's only a minor niggle, but I think a book of this calibre could have at least merited a bit of closer attention to pick them up as it certainly interrupted my reading experience.
In short, this is a terrific book which I give a full five stars. It makes for very compelling, interesting, riveting reading and will have your eyes glued to the pages from the first page to the last. Kate Morton is a superbly talented writer, the likes of which are very rare, and 'The Distant Hours' has given me the kick-start I need to go back and re-read 'The House at Riverton', as well as pick up her other works, past and future.
At the time of writing, a paperback copy of 'The Distant Hours' is available for £3.99 from Amazon, or for £6.39 from The Book People. A Kindle edition is also available on Amazon for £3.59.
Summary: Simply beautiful.
Posted by Nic at 12:37