GENRE: historical fiction/mystery/contemporary fiction
This long-awaited novel by the author of The House at Riverton begins with a long lost letter. Its contents compel young Edie Burchill to journey to the eerie realm of Millderhurst Castle, where her mother, then just 13 years old, waited out the London Blitz. What Edie learns about those distant hours in that faraway place will forever change her view of her mother and herself. A subtle, artfully constructed story about place, the past, and time's reverberations.
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It does not happen often that I can describe one book as both epic and exquisite, but I can easily use the two adjectives for The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. The story offers a compelling and dramatic read, and although the book is quite a tome with almost seven hundred pages, I was never bored when reading it.
It all begins with a letter, which is one my of favourite plot devices that provide a twist. The letter was delivered to Meredith Burchill with a delay of fifty years and her reaction surprised her daughter Edie so much so that Edie becomes determined to unravel her mother’s secrets. She learns that her mother was an evacuee during WWII and that she spent her time outside wartime London at Milderhurst castle, the home of Raymond Blythe, the man who wrote The True History of the Mud Man, one of Edie’s favourite novels.
Suddenly, Edie finds herself trying to uncover the truth behind her mother’s stay at the castle and behind the story that has been captivating readers’ hearts ever since its publication. The path leads her to Midlerhurst castle itself, a once glorious building that is not slowly crumbling apart. There, she meets late Raymond Blythe’s three daughters, the twins Persephone (Percy) and Seraphina (Saffy), and Juniper (June), the youngest child of the famous English author from Kent. What started as her mother’s story suddenly becomes the story of the three sisters, for it is intertwined with her mother’s youth, one year of which she spent at the castle with the intriguing, mysterious, now elderly sisters Blythe. Percy is severe and tries to keep all the mysteries a secret. Saffy is eager to speak, but is prevented from revealing anything by Percy. June lost her mind fifty years ago when her betrothed left her for another woman, but a few words escape her mouth that offer a possibly shocking revelation.
Things are far from what they seem. There is a great secret that still dwells at Miderhurst Castle and it all leads to the origin of The True History of the Mud Man.
The Distant Hours is a wonderful modern gothic novel. The story alternates between wartime England and the present day (the beginning of the 1990s). The past was my favourite portion of the novel. It features delightful historical details focusing on the civilian life in the countryside during WWII and the focus is on the sisters Blythe. All three sisters are highly interesting and slightly tragic individuals. They live alone in a decaying castle, but their lives contain intriguing secrets that Edie Burchill hopes to reveal. The story is very detailed and written in a beautiful, quite lyrical style. The words flow and pull the reader in. The story is a bit slow-paced at times, but it is the kind of slow-paced story that makes you relish every single word and love it.
The story has a haunting quality, and offers dramatic truths and a shocking final revelation that will keep your mind on the story after you’ve finished reading the last page. The main setting is a gothic castle in the countryside, occupied by three mysterious elderly sisters, and on top of all the mysteries, there is also a literary mystery that is a delight for a book lover.
The book is quite an emotional journey and I loved every bit of it. I love Kate Morton, so I may be a bit biased, but I truly believe that she wrote yet another masterpiece that I warmly recommend.
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