The Distant Hours
by Kate Morton
5 stars - delicious
First, a confession.
I'd seen this and other books by the same author show up on the "return this in two weeks or else" shelf of the library. I never took one home. Why? Because the cover art and back blurb led me to believe that these would be nothing more than transparent romance novels. Subsequently, I hesitated when a friend recommended the book lest I find myself giving a one star review to a book that she enjoyed.
Well, clearly I've been missing out.
The story, in brief, centers around Edie, whose mother is quite upset on reading a letter that turns up after being lost in the mail since World War II.
Milderhurst Castle, apparently housed Edie's mother during the worst of the London bombings and her time there was kept a secret until the arrival of the letter. Curious, Edie, goes to visit the castle where she meets the Blythe sisters. Three elderly women who spent their lives in the castle and are now rattling about in it and holding on to family secrets. As the story continues, the reader is offered a narrative alternating between past and present as Edie's search for the truth heads towards a collision with the author's retelling of the past through the eyes of the Blythe sisters.
The writing is everything I could have hoped for. Ms. Morton paints vivid pictures with her pen so that one feels the fierce rainstorms, smells the countryside, and is most certainly a bit thrilled by tours through the castle. The characters are nuanced and real. Each with her own regrets, her own dreams, and her own secrets.
One might imagine that a step back would reveal too much drama, but this is not the case. Every twist in the plot is quite plausible. Every disappointment and misstep sadly human.
We are not overburdened with long conversations as Edie, as well as the sisters Blythe, are primarily introverts and much of the story is told through their thoughts and deeds with actual human interaction kept to a minimum. Oh, I can relate to that. I knew I had found a kindred spirit in Edie on page 16:
I don't have many [friends], not the living, breathing sort at any rate. And I don't mean that in a sad and lonely way; I'm just not the type of person who accumulates friends or enjoys crowds. I'm good with words, but not the spoken kind; I've often thought what a marvelous thing it would be if I could only conduct relationships on paper.
And on viewing the books "floor to ceiling" in the library at Castle Milderhurst...
My fingers positively itched to drift at length along their spines, to arrive at one whose lure I could not pass, to pluck it down, to inch it open, then to close my eyes and inhale the soul-sparking scent of old and literate dust.
As for the ending, well, all books must end and when one is wallowing in such a wonderful work, it is a bit stressful to see the last hundred pages waiting. Once over my sorrow at turning the final page, I concluded that the ending was just fine. I will be adding more of Kate Morton's books to my list.
Yes, there is a dog in the book. A lurcher (which is an intentional cross between a sight hound and some other dog). Although it is not explicitly stated, I fear he does die in the end, but he seems to have a happy enough life in his brief appearances during the telling of the tale.