Friday, November 5, 2010

The Distant Hours Review

Title:  The Distant Hours
Author:  Kate Morton
Publisher:  Atria
Source:  ARC Publisher
Pages: 672

A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WW 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, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. 

Morton once again enthralls readers with an atmospheric story featuring unforgettable characters beset by love and circumstance and haunted by memory, that reminds us of the rich power of storytelling.

My take:  This is one of those books that I will be digesting for days to come.  It's an unexpected story that starts out with a normal telling of a daughter and mother struggling to find their equilibrium together.  Edie has just been dumped by her long-time boyfriend and can't quite form the words to tell her mother.  Then the long lost letter arrives to which Edie is not privy to the contents.  By the time the reader discovers the letters words, they are of nearly no consequence.  The reader has progressed so far into the strange tale that it doesn't matter so much anymore.

Like the overused but apt phrase of "like the layers of an onion," the story reveals itself.  Edie finds herself in Kent, before an estate inhabited by a castle, which her mother stayed for over a year during WWII.  Rather than retelling the story, I want to touch on some of the themes that struck me that I would LOVE to discuss with others after they've read the book.  

The castle seems to be sentient and alive in a subtle manner.  There may or may not be ghosts within its walls, but it certainly seems to groan, breathe, and the secret corridors are referred to as its "veins."  What does it represent?   

The story reveals itself in a manner that the reader changes opinion of the characters as the truths shift.  In the end, although I felt satisfied with knowing all I knew, I couldn't help but wonder if I knew the truth.  Perhaps truth is perceptive and personal.   

The sisters were tied to the castle.  They could not leave.  Not in a paranormal way, but for reasons that are understood by the end of the book, they feel they must stay there until their end. 

Everybody has a secret they hold close to their heart.  Edie with her ex-boyfriend, Meredith with her stay at the mansion, Raymond with the inspiration of "The Mud Man," and the Blythe sisters each hold a key to unraveling the mysteries of their current state.  As much as I tried to skim and then to cheat by reading the end of the book, I could not comprehend it unless I ingested it THEN read the ending.  The secrets each character reveal are not expected, nor are they earth-shattering.  Taken as a whole, however, the story completes itself. 

What is the symbolism of death by fire?  Death by fall?  Both of these are repeated in the history of inhabitants of the castle.   Perhaps by categorizing the historical characters (as rehearsed in the beginning chapters), one would see a pattern to the characters' similarities in sin and death. 

The book introduces so many different themes and variables, it is difficult to imagine how the author ties them all together but, in the end it does.  Completely.  There are so many opportunities to dig deeper into the symbolism and have some wonderful discussions in a book group.  It moved me. 

Book club, anybody? 


Teresa said...

I'm hoping to read it later this month. I'll have to come back and we can discuss :)

Joann said...

This sounds really good! Going on my TBR!! Thank you, very nice review.

CountessLaurie said...

Sounds very intriguing. Added it to the list. (but you had me at the cover)!!