Friday, 27 April 2012

The Distant Hours ~by Kate Morton

Edith Burchill, the main character in Kate Morton's latest novel, 'The Distant Hours', tells us that when writing a book, an author should only write to please herself; that that is the most important thing.  It is clear that Morton follows her own good advice and this novel is simply decadent in its dreamy, past-caring, pace.  It is true that there are pages and pages of detailed descriptions, which some readers might find too slow-moving, but on balance, I have concluded, that when the language is this scrumptious, what is the point of rushing?

Morton has once again, succeeded in writing a book that takes the reader on a journey into the mysterious world of forgotten stories and burning secrets.  For anyone who loves the books of the Brontes, this will be an enjoyable read for you.  The references to 'Jane Eyre' are manifold as are the similarities.  Here we are presented with a mad man in the attic instead of a mad woman.  Abandoned weddings and children are central to both plots, as is the fire motif that cleverly balances the images of water in Morton's text.  Madness, too, and the plight of inherited mental instability, features greatly in each of these dark, gothic tales.
Indeed, both plots are also greatly influenced by a mishap with letters: a cruel aunt keeps news of a fortune from reaching an impoverished Jane, while a lost post-bag delays vital news from reaching Edith's mother for some 40 years. We are told too that the main character loves 'Jane Eyre' and never travels without it.  It is her favourite book.  It seems that she and author Kate Morton have a lot in common.  
Morton herself tells the reader in the introduction that the idea of the story began with three women living in a castle.  Like the witches in Macbeth, these characters have a huge part to play in the story.  Yet this is the story of Edith Burchill, who is researching Milderhurst castle, home of the three Blythe sisters, where her mother was placed during the evacuation of London children during the Second World War.  The plot moves back and forth between the modern day and the early 1940s, as we try to piece together the events in the lives of the castle inmates.
Key to all of this is the father of the three women; Raymond Blythe, the eccentric author who wrote his famous book entitled 'The Mud Man' in the Milderhurst Tower.  And here we find another important theme of the novel; the love of books and how important books can be in a person's life.  Edith has been inspired to follow a life as a publisher because of this children's book, and the lives of all three women are directly altered because of it.  It is the one thing that links all the main characters in the book.  This journey into meta-fiction is one that will please any avid reader immensely.  The book is mostly about the power and joy of books, about what it is to be a writer and  to be gifted with words.  It considers how books and stories can change your life, pull families together and drive them apart.
For some uncanny reason, this is the third book in a row that I have recently read that features a set of twins in the storyline.  This time we are presented with Persephone and Seraphina Blythe; the practical and the artistic twins, much in the same vein as the Jane Austen 'Sense and Sensibility' sisters, Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood.  They are joined by a younger sister, Juniper, whose long-lost love is the great mystery at the heart of this novel. These three characters, along with Edith and her mother, make up a matriarchal cast of characters.  As such this the novel can be viewed as a girl 'buddy novel', with little room left for romantic sub-plots.  Female relationships, especially those between mother and daughter, and between sisters, is at the heart of this novel.  But isn't that what we love in a good read?
This is a great book to sit back and wallow in. Nothing is skimmed over and it is clear, from the detailed descriptions and languid prose-style, that Morton is following her own advice and writing the book that she would like to read.  The delicious thing is that we get to do the same and join her in this scrumptious feast.  If you like to gobble-up books  in a rush, then the slow-thrill of Morton's number-one-best-selling-novel will be simply lost on you.  Literary gorging is not recommended here.  Take your time and enjoy it. And when the stones of Milderhurst tower finally hold forth their secrets, they will find you dawdling around the old castle moat savouring the delight that is the unspoken promise of 'The Distant Hours'.


1 comment:

Jennifer O. said...

This sounds like a fantastic read... don't think I've come across one negative review of this title yet.