Six years ago, a dear friend of mine (let’s call her Lisa) bought me a book for my birthday.
Back then, my preference was crime, biography, other non-fiction and short stories. So when I first unwrapped The Distant Hours, which was not only non-crime fiction, but historical fiction for crying out loud, I was less than enthusiastic. (Sorry, Lisa.)
Quite some time later (sorry, Lisa) I needed something to read, and this was the only thing in my house that I hadn’t yet read (sorry, Lisa). So I opened the book and started reading.
A sleep-free six hours from that moment, I finished. Thanks, Lisa! Here is my review.
The Distant Hours / Kate Morton
(Allen & Unwin, 2010)
Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long-lost letter arrives one Sunday afternoon with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, Edie begins to suspect that her mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret.
Evacuated from London as a thirteen-year-old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe family: Juniper, her twin sisters and their father, Raymond, author of the 1918 children’s classic The True History of the Mud Man. In the grand and glorious Milderhurst Castle, a new world opens up for Edie’s mother. She discovers the joys of books and fantasy and writing, but also, ultimately, the dangers.
Fifty years later, as Edie chases the answers to her mother’s riddle, she, too, is drawn to Milderhurst Castle and the eccentric sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiancé in 1941 plunged her into madness.
This book is a slow burn. Yet, somehow, it’s also instantly compelling. I took a while to really get lost in it, but it didn’t take long for me to know that I was seeing it through to the end.
The Distant Hours is written in both first and third person, and switches character focus, but for the most part it follows Edie (in first person) and her discoveries about her mother (and their mostly strained relationship), Milderhurst Castle and the Blythe sisters. We follow Edie in the present, we follow her into the past, and we discover things alongside her.
But we also discover things she never will; we learn more than she does about the past and the Blythe family. We learn how all of the seemingly disparate stories and character decisions fit together.
We learn about secrets. Lots and lots of secrets. We learn about love.
And we learn about tragedy. There are some stomach-dropping moments in the book, and it’s hard not to feel the heartache yourself. My husband at one point asked what I was reading, and why it was doing weird things to my face.
Some aspects of The Distant Hours (Edie’s departed sibling, her failed romance) are interesting-but-unnecessary-to-knows, and Morton loves to use 100 words where 50 (or even 12) would do. But nothing will stop you continuing to turn those pages. Nothing except running out of them.
- The kitchen settled in a bruised silence around her absence and I stayed very quiet, moved very slowly, so as not to disturb it further.
- I’d have felt sympathy for her, caught as she was in a fantasy world, except that she wasn’t at all the sort of person who engendered sympathy.
- A sensation similar to that when a person stands right on the precipice overlooking a great height, when the knowledge that one must not jump is so strong that an odd compulsion almost overtakes one, whispering that to jump is the very thing that must be done.
- He’d wanted to be a teacher ever since he realised he’d grow up one day to be an adult …
- She says there are stories everywhere and that people who wait for the right one to come along before setting pen to paper end up with very empty pages.
The Distant Hours is a fascinating read that you can undertake in one (long) sitting or dip in and out of. Recommended for those who like to lose themselves to another time and another place when they read. You can purchase The Distant Hours from Booktopia here, or from Book Depository here.
(Or – spoiler alert! – you can come back to emhawkerblog on Sunday for your chance to win a copy!)
Have you read The Distant Hours? What did you think?
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