Maia B.'s Reviews > The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
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Aug 17, 11

bookshelves: boring, too-long
Recommended for: Someone sitting for hours in a waiting room
Read from August 15 to 17, 2011

This was my first Kate Morton book, and I think it will be my last. Even the reviews saying that Morton's first two novels are better than this one can't convince me; if "The House at Riverton" and "The Forgotten Garden" share more than 50% of their characteristics with "The Distant Hours," and I'll bet they do, I'm already not interested.

Really this only garnered a 1.5-star rating, but since I'm in a more-than-usual generous mood I'll round up instead of down. The one thing I can say for this book is that things definitely came around full circle - but they came around at least three times, and not in a believable way. I know this is a modern type of "gothic romance," but Ann Radcliffe must have done something differently than Kate Morton, because somehow I sincerely doubt that "The Distant Hours" will still be in print in a seventy years, let alone two hundred and fifty.

Premise: Woman gets letter and cries over it. Her daughter wants to find out what's going on; women tells her she was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during WWII. (This takes nearly a hundred pages, very dull, long-winded, irritatingly written pages.) Five hundred pages later, we arrive at a conclusion which could have come half the book ago and which, while I did not see coming, I didn't enjoy at all. One of the most unsatisfying books I've read this entire year.

Edie, short for Edith, though the reason anyone would inflict a name like "Edith" on a child escapes me, is underdeveloped, boring, and stupid; she fails to see things coming from MILES off and when they do come insists on being surprised. Meredith, her mother, is likewise extremely undeveloped, and the young-Meredith and old-Meredith not only do not tally, they are 100% different. This is not a skillful rendering of how a woman ages. It's a clumsy, absurd, exasperating portrait of two completely separate characters, though we are supposed to accept that they are one and the same. Sorry. Not buying it.

The three Blythe sisters were also pretty much cardboard cutouts - the most developed character in the entire novel was Percy, and she was very unpleasant. Saffy bored me to tears with her compassion and sympathy and other unrealistically written things; Juniper, well, somehow her "specialness" wasn't all that apparent to me. She seemed more crazy than "wonderful." Am I supposed to like her? Or to be interested in her? Because I'm not.

If you have read the book, please, please read the spoiler because I am not sure I understood it at all. That's the problem with showing more and more layers and layers of something that happened: they blur together and nothing is clear at all.

(view spoiler)

If Ann Radcliffe is way too wordy, Morton beats even her. The Mysteries of Udolpho is way too long, because as well as the ridiculously convoluted plot there's an extended travelogue and other nonsense. "The Distant Hours" is way too long because Morton thinks she can write very well and is more interested in setting up an "atmosphere" than keeping my interest. I started skimming by page 300. The writing drove me crazy; it wasn't all that evocative and some turns of phrase really disgusted me. Here's one that I particularly despise:

"Perspiration laced my brow." Or something like that. Anyway, "perspiration" is the subject and "laced" is the verb. In my experience, perspiration does not "lace." It is not a lacy, delicate, airy, or fragile substance. So why does Morton say that it "laces"? Because she's carried away with her own irritating writing style.

She seems especially enamored of two phrases: "plastic clunk" and "smoky exhalation." The latter appeared in several different forms: exhaled smokily, a smoky exhale. But it wasn't that great the first time and it's even worse after I've read it at least ten times. Why can't Morton think of anything better to say?

I don't want to think about this book anymore. It's making me feel slightly ill just remembering its awfulness.
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Red Fields Wow, I didn't even see the last coincidence you mentioned in your spoiler section. When I read that part I was just confused! At that point I was reading quickly, trying to finish it already. I had trouble with the ever changing point of views. The book didn't intrigue me enough to go back and sort them out. That last section was the most irritating to me. It just wouldn't end, and the reveals were not done in a coherent or satisfying way, for me.

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