Dual Time Frame

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Posted in Dual Time Frame, Literary Fiction on November 25th, 2010 by admin – 12 Comments

An old country pile, a lost letter, family secrets all wrapped up in a complex dual time frame narrative – the perfect ingredients for an engaging winter read.  Yes, at 670 pages, it’s rather daunting but don’t let the size put you off.

It started with a letter.  A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey.

In the contemporary narrative, set in London in 1992,  Edie Burchill’s mother receives a letter which was sent in 1941.  This letter is the catalyst for a mystery which leads to Edie visiting Milderhurst Castle where her mother had been evacuated during World War II.  The castle is still inhabited by the sisters Blythe, twins Percy (Persephone) and Saffy (Serafina) and their younger sister Juniper who has never recovered from being abandoned by her fiance during the war.  The contemporary and historical narratives combine to aid Edie in unraveling the mysteries surrounding her mother’s past and that of the eccentric sisters but of course there are many twists and turns before we learn the bitter truth.

Milderhurst Castle really dominates this tale with its imposing architecture and resistance to any overtures from the National Trust.  It is a living, breathing creature filled with the echoes and voices of previous inhabitants and it inevitably weaves a spell over those who enter it.

The characters are very engaging and we have all the usual gothic elements of mystery, gloom and menace - there are similarities to novels such as Rebecca, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Great Expectations, I Capture the Castle, perhaps too many at times?  It is a very cleverly structured narrative and Kate Morton is an expert at manipulating all the different threads and making the joins apparently seamless.

I did enjoy this atmospheric family saga but would agree that it could do with some judicious pruning – I’m a very patient reader, usually  willing to go with the flow be it fast paced or slow, but must admit to some jaw clenching moments when I just wanted them to “get on with it”!  So, it would be a 4* as opposed to a 5* read for me, one which those who are already Kate Morton fans will probably enjoy but not one to convert those who are not already devotees.

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