Blair's Reviews > The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
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's review
Oct 14, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: mystery-thriller-etc, read-on-kindle, past-and-present, 2010-release, feelgood
Read from December 26 to 28, 2010

Quite recently I wrote a review of another book - Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale - which contained the following lines: Give me a crumbling country manor, dark family secrets, some ruminations on storytelling and the magic of reading, extracts from lost letters and diaries, and a solitary, book-obsessed narrator, and it's pretty much guaranteed I will devour the resulting story. It's no exaggeration to say The Distant Hours has all of these features in abundance, and - no surprise - I loved it. The crumbling country manor is, in fact, a bona fide castle, and there are dark family secrets by the truckload. Readers of Morton's previous novels will recognise the format, which flips back and forth between the past and present day, introducing narrator Edie who, in 1990s London, is investigating the wartime lives of the now-elderly Blythe sisters, their writer father (also the author of Edie's favourite childhood book), and their evacuee protégé Meredith (who happens to be Edie's mother). As the carefully woven plot progresses, stories - both true and imagined - are unravelled, skeletons are brought out of various cupboards (or muniment rooms?) and mysteries are solved. Edie is an engaging narrator who I liked instantly - her chapters do a fantastic job of making you feel like she's actually chatting to you, telling her story. Morton has obviously done lots of research and it's amazing how authentically English everything about the story feels, given that the author is actually Australian. The plot is interesting right from the start but it really picks up towards the end; the last third-person chapter wrapped everything up flawlessly and even brought a tear to my eye, and as I often have with brilliant books, I stayed up all night to finish reading.

Certainly, the book could easily be dismissed as cliché-ridden and is not without flaws - I had to grit my teeth every time (and there were LOTS of times) Morton used 'small' as a synonym for 'young', as in 'when we were/she was small' - idek, it just really got on my nerves. But god, it's all just SO DAMN BLOODY ENJOYABLE. It's true that the style sometimes feels forced, occasionally hampered by unrealistically descriptive dialogue or segments where it feels like the author has got a bit thesaurus-happy; true that, as with her other two novels, at least one of the twists is totally obvious from the beginning; true that Kate Morton is never going to be a great literary writer. All that considered, this is still a wonderful read. I understand that not everyone will get on with the author's style, but you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted not to find something to love about this story. The icing on the cake is that, while Morton paves the way for Edie to have a romantic happy ending and hints at an embryonic potential relationship with another character, she doesn't feel the need to pair her off with anyone at the conclusion. I was SO HAPPY about this - a mainstream book that actually allows a 30-year-old single woman to remain happy alone is a rare thing indeed, and cemented my suspicion that I was going to have to give this one a five-star review.

(Incidentally, this was the first ebook I read on the Kindle I got for Christmas. I couldn't have asked for a better one, really - nothing like a chunk of absorbing gothic fiction to remind you it's the power of a story that's really important, not whether you're reading it on paper or on an electronic device.)
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