Nisareen's Reviews > The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
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May 24, 2013

it was amazing
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Read in April, 2012

I'm a huge fan of Kate Morton's, having previously read The Forgotten House and The House at Riverton and this novel did not disappoint. I was captivated by this beautiful, sad intricate tale about living with secrets which are gradually and eloquently revealed in this haunting story.

As with Morton’s other books, the story unfolds both modern day and through a series of flashbacks. A letter posted in 1941 finally reaches Meredith Burchill in 1992. Wounds are reopened when she recalls the year she spent at Milderhurst Castle as an evacuee during the war. Her daughter, Edie is mystified by her mother’s reaction and further drawn into the mystery when she visits the castle, now in grave disrepair and encounters the three eccentric daughters of the late Raymond Blythe, author of a gothic novel which Edie fell in love with as a child. The three spinster sisters, the troubled Juniper, softer friendlier Saffy and the reserved and practical Percy have a strange haunted background. Sheltered from life by their isolation in the castle and shackled to the will of their domineering father, they find themselves unable to escape the confines of the castle and live their dreams.

When Edie (who happens to work for a publisher) is asked to write an introduction for a new edition of the novel, she uses the opportunity to stay at the castle and uncover the true origins of Blythe’s novel. Gothic elements galore including disappearances, insanity, murder, accidental deaths, suicide, a creepy children’s story and tragic love stories are what Edie discovers as she slowly uncovers secrets which have been painstakingly buried for generations.

Morton has a knack for jumping back and forth in time, revealing bits and pieces to reader. Secrets compound secrets and what at first appears simple is anything but. The result is an extremely complex and masterfully woven plot that doesn’t sort itself out until the last pages. It’s important to understand that The Distant Hours is more character driven than plot driven so this book isn’t for those who like their plots more fast paced. The novel has been criticised for its length, but the novels greatest strength is the depth of its character development so I felt that the extra detail was needed to flesh out the story in order for events and character motivations to be plausible to the reader. The Blythe sisters were compelling characters – their life stories taking wonderful twists and turns as new revelations about each sibling were revealed. It’s heartrending to see their hopes and aspirations are now a thing of the past and the acceptance of their lot in life. It’s tragic to see the vibrant and full of life Juniper transformed into a ruined empty shell. The incredible weight of the burden that Percy has carried all these years as what comes across as cruelty is revealed as kindness. Uplifting, however, was the way that Edie’s relationship with her mother evolved throughout the novel.

At the end, the reader is rewarded with an expertly woven depiction of the sisters and how their lives were shaped by love, friendship, sacrifice and devotion. The reader is left with all the sad ‘what ifs’ long after the last page is turned.
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