Friday, April 26, 2013

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton

Kate Morton writes a good novel. She has a way with weaving 'mood' so deeply into the plot line of her stories that her readers are gathered close, as if their chairs are pulled in tight to the fireside in a dark, Gothic library. Sometimes, one turns from the fire to look back into the darkness with a sense of curiosity and sometimes, with dread. There are always mysteries just below the surfaces of her settings and characters. There is always one relentless character that serves to reveal all. She has a clever way of drawing the 'particulars' of each of her characters together in a web of events that form a compelling story.

In The Distant Hours, she weaves a tale that begins with a book about a strange, ghostly creature from the bog. In the countryside of Kent, lives the Blythe family. They reside in an ancient castle with lovely gardens and grounds, wooded copses, trails, and paths. Raymond Blythe is the renowned author of a novel about a ghostly creature called The Mud Man that haunts the residents of a castle estate. Raymond's checkered and tragic marital past has brought him three daughters that become tied to him and the estate, as he advances in age and becomes increasingly eccentric (and perhaps, mad?).  His daughters are all equally interesting characters - one mannish and practical, the other docile and maternal, and the last a creative literary wunderkind with a history of emotional and physical outbursts. These three struggle with their desires, ambitions, familial constraints during the era of second world war. They are sheltered from curiosity of the world about them by their famous author/father.

When a young girl from London comes to stay with them as part of the British government's efforts to keep urban children safe during The Blitz - the outer world invades the Blythe family in more ways than one. Years later, the young girl's daughter discovers her mother's connection to the famous author. As she begins to investigate this hidden period of her mother's life, her strained relationship with her mother becomes a major source of conflict. Another family, another set of family secrets to be unwound and revealed. Another parent/child relationship to contemplate - a Gothic web of events that explores just what children do to inspire parents, what parents do for and to children with their fears and expectations, what adult children do to break free from early familial stresses and how emotional distance and miscommunication can warp our perceptions of each other.

Ms. Morton writes a good novel.

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