Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Distant Hours Book Review

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

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Edie is an only child of respectable if dull parents who, when she was growing up, did little to nurture her natural love of words or mystery.

But now, a letter that should have been delivered fifty years earlier arrives for her mother and sends Edie on a journey into the past. It takes her to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house in Kent, where the Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted as a thirteen-year-old child during World War II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn't been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother's past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst. The truth of what happened in "the distant hours" of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning an intricate web of mystery and suspense that will stay with the reader long after the last page.

Review by Brittany:

First of all, what a lovely, well-written book. This is my first by Kate Morton (although I own all of her other books), and I think I made a good first choice. She tells the story always in third person, but she does switch her focus between the characters, which adds a level of depth to the story that does wonders for it.

The present is 1992, when Edie's mother Meredith receives the letter and Edie begins researching and poking into the past. The story bounces between the present, when Edie is learning more about what happened, and the past, the events as they are happening. The way the author went about sharing both the past and the present was interesting, and I enjoyed reading the events the way they happened, but also hearing in the present how things were told. This also added a level of suspense to the story because the narrators of the present are not as reliable as the facts of the past. The time period is one that interests me as I enjoy reading stories about World War II. Although there isn't a lot about the war in this book, there are key elements to this story that would have been different with a different time period.

The blurb does not mention this, but a huge factor in Edie's curiosity about Milderhurst and the Blythe sisters is a childhood book that was written by their father, Raymond Blythe. Edie fell in love with his book The True History of the Mud Man, and that love for the book pushes her to continue in her pursuit of learning more about the past, including the inspiration for the book.

There are so many secrets in this book, some small but some astronomical, and the author reveals everything by the end of the novel. The reader learns about the night Juniper was jilted and why that affected her so tragically, about Meredith's own past, about the origins of the book. We get a piece of it all, to the point where the story is well wrapped up in the end.

That being said, this is not a happy story. The secrets of the past hold tragedies that have altered the lives of the Blythe sisters, and not for the better. This is not a book that leaves you smiling at the end; however, it is a lovely book that tells a fantastic story. I often enjoy the stories that make me sad more than the stories that make me happy, and this one was a very good book. I am looking forward to reading Morton's other books.

Notable quotes:

The stretch of years leaves none unmarked: the blissful sense of youthful invincibility peels away and responsibility brings its weight to bear.

I had a feeling that for someone like my aunt who'd had the good fortune to find herself exactly where she fitted, no explanation would make sense.

There were simpler romantic choices she could have made, suitable men with whom she might have fallen in love, with whom she could have conducted a courtship openly and without risk of exposing her family to derision, but love was not wise, not in Percy's experience: it was unmindful of social structures, cared not for lines of class or propriety or plain good sense. And no matter that she prided herself on her pragmatism; Percy had been no more able to resist its call when it came than to stop herself from drawing breath.

She didn't say as much, though; the force of Juniper's conviction was such that Meredith knew the fault was her own, that her tastes were too juvenile, that she just wasn't trying hard enough.

There are certain people who exude vulnerability, whose pain and discomfort are particularly difficult to witness, and for whom you would endure almost any inconvenience if it promised to ease their suffering.

Nighttime is different. Things are otherwise when the world is black. Insecurities and hurt, anxieties and fears grow teeth at night.

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