The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

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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  1. I have found previous Morton books OK, but nothing special. I was quite shocked when I saw how thick this one was. I’m not sure I’ll bother with one of her books that need a good pruning – the others needed it too :-) Thanks for crossing a book off my list :-)

  2. Looking forward to this one but my past experience was that I liked her books, but they could have been edited downward about 100 pages.

  3. Iris says:

    Are there other Morton books out there that might convert me?

  4. admin says:

    Iris, out of her three, the one I enjoyed the most was The House at Riverton – they are cosy, comfort reads for me, ideal for brisk winter days and evenings. I don’t think it would rank among my favourites but still an enjoyable read.

  5. admin says:

    Jackie, I was rather bewildered when I collected it from the library as the description of the hardback on Amazon said it was 320 pages…erm, double it and then some!

  6. JoAnn says:

    I enjoyed the audio of The Forgotten Garden quite a bit. The dual time frame with a story gradually unfolding appeals to me, but I think I’ll read The House at Riverton next. Will get to this one eventually…

  7. admin says:

    Jo-Ann, she handles the dual time frame format magnificently – my only quibble is that it could have been edited better. I think you’ll enjoy it. :-)

  8. yolanda says:

    I am reading this now so was intrigued to hear your input.

  9. Jenny says:

    I do think that Kate Morton could use a good editor. She has some tricks of sentence phrasing that she uses over and over again for emotional effect. It might have worked one or two times, but when she does it a thousand times, it loses all punch and starts making me want to smack her.

  10. admin says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Yolanda! Overall I did enjoy the book but it frustrated me a lot at times. I’ll be interested to hear what you make of it.

  11. admin says:

    Jenny, if I hadn’t been gritting my teeth so much, I might have resorted to smacking or at least sitting her on the naughty step for a while! Must be my years of teaching coming back to haunt me… ;-)

  12. admin says:

    Hi, BBTS, it’s a shame really as she’ll lose fans and not attract too many new ones if the purple prose persists in proliferating…. ;-)

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