The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

For some reason, the Kobo store’s summary does not match the book, so here is the Chapters summary:

A long-lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13-year-old child during WW II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

I loved this book. I’ve read another of Kate Morton’s books, The Forgotten Garden, which was good but which I didn’t love. This one, though, is excellent.

While working on this post, I found this trailer on Kate Morton’s website. It conveys the mood of the book perfectly!

This book had so many elements that I love: a castle; a mystery; family secrets; dark, gloomy surroundings; tragedy; a book within a book (in a sense); a historical setting (WWII, in this case); multiple narratives/perspectives and overlapping plot lines, spread around different time periods…and probably more!

The main character is Edie Burchill, a twenty-something publisher, whose mother receives a decades-old letter. This letter sets Edie off on a mission to learn more about her mother’s past and connection with Milderhurst Castle. Along the way, she meets the three Sisters Blythe – stern Percy, friendly Saffy, and troubled Juniper – who have remained in the castle.

I have so much I want to say about this book but I don’t quite know how, if that makes sense.

Edie’s relationship with her mother is strained, and Edie believes this is due to her mother’s reserve. When Edie’s mother receives a long-lost letter that literally makes her cry out upon reading it, Edie’s curiosity is piqued. She discovers that her mother, who lived in London during WW II, was evacuated and lived at the castle for a time as a teenager. Edie wants to know more, and wants to understand why her mother didn’t tell her any of this.

Edie comes to view her mother in a new light as she learns more about her past. I really don’t want to spoil anything about this book, so while I want to say more, I won’t…but I really enjoyed watching the growth of their relationship. I think we all wonder what our parents were like before they were ‘our parents’, and try to see them as people, not just ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’.

Similarly, Edie’s father is at home recuperating following a heart attack, and while Edie is investigating her mother’s past and Milderhust Castle, she begins to spend more time with him as well. They begin to bond over a book, The True History of the Mud Man, written by Raymond Blythe – the Blythe sisters’ father. Edie’s father, a non-fiction devotee, suspects a real-life inspiration for or connection to this novel, and this broadens Edie’s investigation into the castle and its mysteries.

Edie ventures to the castle for a tour, and meets the sisters – including Juniper, who is still waiting for her fiance to arrive, thinking it is still 1941. Following this visit, Edie becomes caught up in the life of the sisters and the castle, and gets involved in a way that I don’t want to spoil.

This book is really well-written. I loved the author’s descriptions. I feel like I haven’t read such lovely writing in a while.

That said, this book is a bit dark, but I wouldn’t quite call it gothic. I like dark books, so this was right up my alley, but if you’re looking for a light, fluffy read, this is not it!

I loved the depth of this story, the span of the events. There are several smaller mysteries, but the main mystery of this novel builds up slowly and gradually, and the author takes her time unravelling it all. What a pay off! While I had my suspicions, I reveled in reading the ‘reveal’, having waited patiently to get there.

I really felt for the characters. At times, my heart ached for them. I really got emotionally involved in this one, which made it all the more tragic and heart-wrenching.

I greatly recommend this book. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I know that my review here does not do it justice. It is atmospheric, compelling, suspensful, and despite my emphasis on the ‘darkness’ of it, there is also happiness. I think it’s nicely balanced.

This is a book for people who love reading – who are patient and not in a hurry to find everything out. Not to sound super cheesey, but reading this book is like taking a journey where the ‘getting there’ is as good as the destination!

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