Adult,  Big Book

The Distant Hours

Kate Morton
Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret. Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family. Fifty years later, Edie too is drawn to Milderhurst and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiancé in 1941 plunged her into madness. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it …
Having read Kate Morton’s previous two novels and loved them I was delighted when someone at the book club I go to chose this for our next read. However for reasons I can’t remember I didn’t finish it in time for our discussion (sick children I suspect!) but went along anyway (needed to get away from sick children? ;-)). That meant that I found out the end of the story and consequently shelved the book for a while. I recently got it out again and was glad to have forgotten what happened and started again. The thing that I did remember from the previous time was how much I had enjoyed it!
Before I get into the story I want to say that my favourite thing about this book is the atmosphere created in it. Milderhurst Castle feels like a character itself, unchanging over time, but for the added secrets that it holds in its walls. It means something different to each of the people connected with it and its hold over them is undeniable. The descriptions of it show its beauty and its gothic eeriness. Kate’s writing brings it alive and the whole of the book is pervaded by a feeling of mystery and history.
The story itself moves back and forth between the present day with Edie Burchill and the early 1940’s with her mother Meredith. This dual thread way of writing has been done many times, but it is used to great effect to build up the mystery and to get to know all the characters involved in a much deeper and more complex way. It really enhances this story. The unresolved mystery at the centre of the story is what happened to Juniper to drive her to madness, and for Edie, the question of what was her mother’s part in it. The unravelling of it involves love stories, betrayal, revenge, ambition and stormy nights.
Edie is an interesting character, but as the story develops and we learn more about Meredith I found her the more intriguing. There is a fantastic exploration of family relationships through the novel and the interactions between Edie and Meredith and the way they have come to be as they are was riveting. I was absorbed by the way that a chain of events affects a person and the culmination of that making its way down the years to future generations.
This is echoed in the story of the sisters Blythe. The complicated relationship between the sisters again links back to the effects of a parent. Their Father, who doted on them and yet had to control and manipulate them, even beyond the grave. The secrecy and lies that are woven into their relationships mean that there are stories layered between stories. The fact that this is a family of writers and Edie is a publisher adds to the web.
Verdict: I adored this book, I couldn’t put it down its story is gripping and the descriptive writing is a joy to read.
Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Pan
Publication Date: May 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 600
Genre: Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Own copy
Challenge: Oldest Book On The Shelf

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