on November 9, 2010
Why is it that books that you love the most are the hardest to describe? I sat in front of my laptop for more than a hour , after I had finished reading the book and yet was unable to formulate a word other than "WOW!".
Kate Morton is one of my top 5 favorite authors. I loved her other 2 books and I devoured the 600 plus pages of this book in less than one day.I was incapable of sleeping - the story and the characters pulled me in so deep that sleep was really the last thought I had.
I had been awaiting this book more than any other book this year. The wait has been more than worth it.
There is such a haunting quality to this book which makes it one that you cannot forget easily.There were sentences and whole paragraphs that still resonate in my ears.Kate Morton's beautiful writing is one of the major reasons why I am such a big fan of hers.Her lyrical prose will stay with you. I can actually quote lines from this book (something I thought I was not capable of)- such was the writing.
The setting , a gothic castle, is a character in itself. Such is the author's writing that the castle seems as alive as its occupants.In its veins, runs the secrets from long ago.Kate Morton's breathtaking description of the castle will make you feel as if you are there.Her descriptions are so evocative, so beautiful that it leaves you wanting for more.
Entwined with the suspense element is a heart-wrenching story of three sisters that won't fail to move you.The sisters and their story will break your heart. I felt their pain, their fears . Imagine being a prisoner in your own home with no dreams or hope for a future. I could feel the castle walls binding them, suffocating them.
Throughout the book, I tried to prepare myself for the final shocking conclusion -as the secrets are revealed.Yet I was completely taken aback by the ending which was a disquieting one.
The story's movement between the past and the present is smooth and beautifully done.As each chapter unfolds, we get to know more about the past. Slowly, we are able to piece together the parts to form a complete picture. As secret after secret unravels, years of secrets,betrayal, heartbreaks, tragedies, will shock you. This dark and haunting story will unnerve you and yet won't fail to touch you.
There are certain chilling moments, I shuddered at some points. Its not something very in your face..its something lying just beneath the surface..something not visible.. that creeps you out.
Even after an astounding ending ,I still felt as if there were still things left to the reader to decipher and interpret - the castle had still not revealed all its secrets.
The castle, the sisters, their tragic story - they will linger with you , long after you have read the last page.
The Distant Hours is a perfect read for a rainy night. It has all the makings of a prefect gothic novel- family secrets, an old castle, mysterious deaths, a letter from long ago and madness running through a family .
Even though this is a huge book , I wanted more pages to miraculously appear. Its one of those books which made me want to read on and on.
I think I am a Kate Morton fanatic for life now. This masterpiece of a book has made me very sure that no matter how much I have to wait for her next book, it will be definitely worth it.Its beacause of books like these that I love reading.
Favorite Quote: There were so many , but if I have to choose one, it would be-
"The ancient walls sing the distant hours.."
Somehow this one sentence affected me a lot. It made me think of the past memories. It was so suited for this story. Every old house has its memories-painful and happy.Maybe when you are quiet, you can hear the voices of the people from the past-people who have lived and loved and died. This quote also made me think of something menacing lurking beneath the memories - I guess this was what the author wanted.When the author described the castle, I almost felt all the grief, the happiness, hidden in the castle walls and yet found it so hard to completely penetrate the secrets of the hours gone by.
Overall: Haunting, engrossing and shocking! I wish there was a stronger word to describe how much I love this book. After almost a year, this is a new addition to my list of favorite books.
Recommended? YES ! A thousand times yes! No matter what genre you read, do give Kate Morton's books a try. Though there are many talented young authors today, Kate Morton is still my favorite.
The House at Riverton-Kate Morton
The Forgotten Garden-Kate Morton
Arcadia Falls - Carol Goodman
A rundown castle, tightly held family secrets and a literary mystery lie at the center of this novel. Throw in a long lost letter, forbidden romance, family madness and ghostly whispers in the dark and you get a gothic style mystery which would be the perfect book to read by the fire on a stormy night.
The book kicks off in 1992 when a letter posted during the war arrives for Meredith Burchill. For the first time, her daughter Edie learns that her mother was evacuated from London for 18 months during World War 2. Meredith spent that time living in Milderhurst Castle in Kent, home to the famous writer Raymond Blythe and his three daughters. Blythe's claim to fame is that he penned a book which became a children's classic: The True History of the Mud Man. This also happens to be Edie's favorite book. Edie visits the castle and meets with the three daughters, now elderly ladies. She has an unnerving encounter with the youngest daughter, Juniper, which makes her realize that there are some dark family secrets which her mother may be a part of. Why have the sisters never left the castle? What had tormented Raymond Blythe in his final years? Is Juniper's madness purely because her fiance jilted her 40 years previously? Why was Raymond Blythe so secretive about the origins of his book?
The story then jumps back to 1941, and from there it moves between the past and the present day. Kate Morton does a skillful job of gradually peeling back layers of the onion, so that the true story is gradually pieced together over the course of the book. What this does mean however it that it takes quite a while to get going. The early chapters have a lot of background information which takes a while to become relevant. There are several mysteries to be revealed, and while I was able to guess at some of them, I was completely wrong about others. Morton also does a terrific job of bringing the forbidding castle to life. There are a few genuinely creepy moments, although for the most part it's intriguing rather than chilling.
I tossed up between 3 and 4 stars. At times I felt that the book was overlong, too contrived and reliant on coincidences. However the way it comes together is ultimately very satisfying. A good story, cleverly told.
on November 10, 2010
Okay, that infamous line is never used, but it might as well have been. There WERE plenty of dark and stormy nights in this deliciously atmospheric novel of suspense. Like Ms. Morton's previous novels, this is a tale told in two times. The "contemporary" story is set in 1992, and events are set in motion by the delivery of a letter 51 years late. Protagonist Edie Burchill is visiting her parents when the letter arrives, and she witnesses her mother's unexpected and unexplained emotional response to the missive.
Questioning her mother, Meredith, Edie learns for the first time that her mother was evacuated from London during WWII. For over a year, she lived in the country with the sisters Blythe and their elderly father at gothic Castle Middlehurst. Meredith is inexplicably reticent to discuss her past. This is merely one more example of the distance that Edie has always felt with her mother. Edie finds the incident odd, but it fades quickly into the past--until months later, lost on a road trip, she stumbles upon Castle Middlehurst and her curiosity is fiercely awakened. On a whim, Edie arranges a tour of the castle and discovers, among other things, that all three sisters are alive and in residence. After several introductory chapters setting up the story, the book moves back and forth between Edie's answer-seeking in 1992, and chapters set during the actual events that occurred between 1939 and 1941, seen from the POV of several of the story's participants.
There is SO much more to the story told in this epic novel. The Blythes are a literary family, and patriarch Raymond is the author of the children's classic The True History of the Mud Man that inspired Edie's love of literature and eventual career in publishing. Ms. Morton is a brilliant story-teller and knows exactly how to torture her readers with questions. What was in the letter Meredith received half a century late? What was the true inspiration of the Mud Man? Why is the parlor door kept locked? What was in Raymond's will? What really happened that night in 1941?
So many questions. And Morton teases us along for hundreds of pages, stringing along answers like breadcrumbs for readers to follow. Kate Morton is very, very good at what she does. Though, after three novels, the similarities in the types of stories she tells and the themes therein have become quite evident. She's going to need to shake things up before she starts to recycle too much. But for now, The Distant Hours is hard to beat for good old-fashioned entertainment value. It literally brought chills and goose bumps to my skin time and time again. Savor it on a dark and stormy night!
Kate Morton does her best to write the updated Gothic novel plugging in the typical variables into a well-used and beloved formula that usually yields a great deal of entertainment and quality reading time for those of us who enjoy the genre. In this case, a moldering castle, a trio of spinster sisters and a secret help to create atmosphere while a letter written back in 1941 and finally delivered in 1997 jumpstarts a flailing mother/daughter relationship while uncovering some unsettling facts about the origins of a children's literary classic.
For the most part, "The Distant Hours," Morton's third foray into this type of romance, works as an entertainment, meaning that it succeeds in whiling away the time of its audience in a way that both engages and has them desiring more. However, Morton's labyrinthine style of telling stories within stories while changing point of view and time periods begins to get cumbersome after the reader figures out where the plot is actually going and that the overall effect on the main characters really isn't all that critical.
One of the main characters, Meredith, comes to the castle as a child evacuated during the bombing of London during WW2. Morton introduces us to her personal angst with regard to her view of her own self-worth and the role the castle-dwelling sisters play in helping her determine her future. But for the most part, inasmuch as Meredith only serves as a technical vessel to change the novel's venue to the castle, none of this has any great dramatic relevance that later on will cause the reader to ooh and ahh when the climatic scenes are reached and the mystery is no longer shrouded in secret.
Likewise, Edie, Meredith's daughter, the primary narrator of the tale, and the person whose actions somewhat drive the plot, really gains nothing from the whole experience recanted in over 500 pages. She begins as a storyteller and ends as pretty much the same personality with perhaps a better understanding of her mother as a person with desires of her own. As charming as all this bonding sounds, Morton's effort comes across as forced. She has all the components for a modern story told on fairytale turf--the woods, the castle, two Red Riding Hoods and three undernourished grandmothers. Unfortunately, her wolf is tired and dentures facilitate his bite. Present throughout the story as a legend, he seems to be added to the mix a tad too late at the point where the reader has already decided where and how the story should have ended and doesn't really care about the meandering back story told by way too many voices.
In the same respect, Morton's hunter remains non-existent: the hero of "the Distant Hours" is suggested as an afterthought rather than crafted through the thunder and lightning of human chemistry and moonlit nights. Where is the romance? The suggestion of sensual pleasure breaking through the barrier of the classic Gothic heroine's intellectual sensibilities is sadly never explored and this very necessary flare of hope and light in the midst of all the gloom never illumed. In attempting to recreate a neo-Gothic drama, Morton needs to look to past experts: the first person voices of Victoria Holt's heroines--who acted for me as initial welcomers to the suspense/romance/Gothic world and now presently, the women crafted by Susanna Kearlsey whose modern day narratives brings the heroine into her own, unencumbered by convention and class distinctions. Morton's damsel, who cannot be qualified as even "in distress" remains a voyeur like Bronte's Lockwood in Wuthering Heights. She watches and reports; the reader can only guess at her emotional station as the narration comes to an end. We may feel her pleasure that the book has come to a conclusion and all is well with the world, but as the wolf has no teeth, the maybe lovers, living happily ever after, have no heat.
For Morton, a theme revolving around a piece of literature and the backstory of its creation is already explored in her "The Forgotten Garden: A Novel." That story works better as the characters of TFG are all personally invested in the mystery's solution--lives are dramatically changed, bitterness abandoned and burgeoning love blossoms sweetly like lilies of the valley in Springtime. "The Distant Hours" goes out with not so much name-dropped T.S. Eliot's whimper, but a drama-less fizzle--Morton makes a sloppy attempt to make all things right with her fictional world--she provides the outlines, brings her audience to a premature denouement and then attempts to fully flesh out her sketch afterwards when I, for one, no longer cared.
Bottom line? "The Distant Hours" does provide the Gothic romance reader a glorious amount of time whiled away back in the day where crumbling castles and those of the manor born ruled their roasts and controlled each other and their annexed village. Alas, with no Byronic hero and little in terms of romance, "The Distant Hours" flounders a little, meandering down a path strewn with too many spinsters and would-be governesses that dead ends into the depressing debilitating corner of crushed dreams. All in all, it is recommended because of its ability to create a thoroughly chilling atmosphere and for the fact that it attempts to further along the neo-Gothic genre that since the retirement of Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden and Mary Stewart has floundered for a new voice. Check out the novels of Susanna Kearlsey if you enjoy a modern heroine in a not-so-modern environment.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
If I only read one book this fall, I decided months ago, it would have to be The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Kate Morton's debut novel, The House of Riverton, held me so spellbound that as soon as I finished it, I read it again. Despite the fact that The House of Riverton left me emotionally drained, I eagerly pre-ordered her next novel, The Forgotten Garden, and devoured it in one sitting, heedless of the late hour and lack of sleep, when it finally came. I'm glad to report that her third effort, The Distant Hours, was just as compulsively readable and captivating as the first two.
Everything I loved in The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, and have come to expect from Kate Morton, is in The Distant Hours.
First, there's always a mystery that unfolds in lush, gothic detail, usually in a bygone era. Here, a letter sent during World War II arrives 50 years later. Like a siren call from the past, Edie is compelled to find Milderhurst Castle and discover the fate of the Sisters Blythe, Juniper, Persephone, and Seraphina. Aristocratic beauties in their day, what has happened to the Sisters Blythe over the years and what precipitated their tragic decay reminds me a bit of Grey Gardens mixed with We Have Always Lived at the Castle. So lovely and promising in their youth, they are now old women who never escaped the mouldy castle of their forebears, their dreams strangled by a mysterious tragedy 50 years before.
"Have you ever wondered what the stretch of time smells like? I can't say I had, not before I set foot inside Milderhurst Castle, but I certainly know now. Mould and ammonia, a pinch of lavender and a fair whack of dust, the mass disintergration of very old sheets of paper. And there's something else too, something underlying it all, something verging on rotten or stewed but not. It took me a while to work out what that smell was, but I think I know now. It's the past. Thoughts and dreams, hopes and hurts, all brewed together, shifting in the stagnant air, unable to dissipate completely."
The long shadows cast by their controlling father, a celebrated novelist, and his most famous work, The True History of the Mud Man, over their lives has something to do with why the Sisters Blythe have never left the castle. Morton, as usual, is adept at weaving subtle strands and hints so that even as the reader uncovers more and more of the mystery, the final reveal is devastating and unexpected. Hint - within the short, haunting excerpt from the Mud Man tale in the beginning of the book are symbolic clues as to the dark history and future of the Sisters Blythe.
Love affairs cut tragically short; age-old secrets waiting to be discovered; suspenseful, atmospheric setting; and writing that left me breathless - The Distant Hours enthralled me to the very end.
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
I loved Kate Morton's book THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN so I was very excited when I got a galley of her newest book, THE DISTANT HOURS. When a letter from 1941 finally arrives at its destination fifty years later, it has powerful repercussions for Edie Burchill, a young publisher in London. Edie's mother opens the much-belated letter and is powerfully affected by it. She reveals to Edie that she had been evacuated to a castle called Milderhurst in the countryside during the war. Edie is very surprised to learn of this previously hidden episode in her mother's life. She is even more surprised to learn that Milderhurst was the residence of the author of Raymond Blythe, the author of one her favorite books, THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE MUD MAN. This book is a national treasure and no one has ever cracked the mystery of the true inspiration behind the story. When Edie is brought to Milderhurst by chance, she can't resist learning more about the place her mother had been exiled to and, in so doing, becomes drawn into the lives of the three elderly Blythe sisters that reside there still and the mysteries surrounding them.
This is a very difficult book to describe. There is so much going on! It is a bit of a chunkster at 670 pages but the story flew by as I could not put it down. The story moves back and forth between the present of 1992 to the war years. We see the events unfolding through multiple perspectives as we try to learn the truth about the hidden secrets of the Blythe sisters and the origins of the famous MUD MAN story. There is also the side story of Edie trying to understand her mother, Meredith, by delving into her past. The book reveals a great deal about the often complicated relationships between parents and children and also between siblings. The book offers a literary mystery and reminded me a great deal of AS Byatt's POSSESSION and Diane Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALE. All of the characters are interesting and the secrets and mysteries keep you guessing until the end.
I could not put this book down. I loved it even more than THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN. It has many of the elements of my favorite books--mystery, books, family drama and secrets, madness, passion, castles, romance and even some wartime drama. Although I think the ending was successful, it felt a little abrupt to me. I wish Morton hadn't hurried things up so much. However, it was a thoroughly entertaining read overall.
BOTTOM LINE: HIGHLY recommended. One of my favorites this year. Fans of AS Byatt and Diane Setterfield and even Charlotte Bronte will find much to enjoy here. This makes a great winter read.
on November 29, 2010
I was enthralled by The Forgotten Garden and liked a lot The House at Riverton but this one is a complete mystery to me as to why she got so off the track. I think maybe a little too many morose classics in her repertoire. In all honesty I haven't finished the book but I don't know if I can stay awake long enough to finish it. She goes on for paragraphs about a dress or the messiness of a room when I just want her to get on with the relevant tale. In The Forgotten Garden I couldn't wait to pick it up again and ignored my duties just to secret away with it. With this one I'm about to give up. Will update this review if I ever get through it. I have been waiting with bated breath for months for this book. What a boring disappointment.
Update: Well I finished the book and after the first third being horrible the real Kate Morton reappeared and authored as she had in the past. The story finally took off moving well and providing sufficient mystery. I really enjoyed the second half. I'm still only upgrading this book to three stars because of the awful beginning (I agree too that The Mud Man is not a story children would really enjoy and opening with it immediately disinterested me). I wonder about the people she asks to read this before publication. Didn't anyone encourage her to tighten up the script? Well, hopefully people pick up her other books before this one.
on November 30, 2010
As a huge fan of Kate Morton's previous novels, "The House at Riverton" and "The Forgotten Garden", I pre-ordered this book months ago and couldn't wait until I got my hands on her latest. What a huge disappointment.
Her character's never really came to life, the book is overwritten and it wasn't until I got to page 200 or there about, that the story finally took off. And even when I thought, she's finally getting there, the story would bog down again. By the time I finished it, I just didn't care anymore.
It would normally take me two or three days to read a book of this size, unfortunately, this one took me almost 2 weeks to get through. Maybe a better editor?
Sadly, I'm not sure I could recommend this one and I'm really bummed out that I had to write a negative review on what I had hoped would be a trifecta for Kate Morton.
on November 21, 2010
A great story but....slow to start and too wordy!! Loved her first 2 books and I did like this story, I just got bogged down by too much information!
on March 2, 2011
When I started reading this book, I was looking for a great romance, instead it turned out to be the story of a sad and lonely life. Those three sisters, how else could their lives have ended? They were too old for living, and could only hope to die on their own terms. That was sad but beautiful. I did not expect the story to end any other way. Well written, I did not just like the forwards and backwards that happened frequently. In the end it all connected. I look forward to reading more of Kate Morton's books.