I have this TBR list that is all but defunct, mostly because I forget to add titles to it under the terribly mistaken idea that I won’t forget the title of that book that I really want to read. I think another reason that I don’t keep it up, though, is a little more subliminal–reading glowing reviews of a title often sets me up to be disappointed when I finally get around to reading that book, so I’m hesitant to add too many to an official list out of disappointment. And so it goes for Kate Morton‘s The Distant Hours. Morton‘s name has popped up on several of the blogs I read, and each review is written in such a way that I’m always intrigued. I finally brought the book home from the library after leaving it there once before, mostly because I thought the story might be too creepy for me (I don’t do scary–at all). While the book delivers in all the ways the reviews say it will, I’m still in no hurry to rush out and read another Morton story right away. Maybe I will some day, but right now I think I need a bit of a recovery period.
The Distant Hours is a complex story about a woman named Edie who begins to delve into her mother’s past after her mother receives a long-lost letter that absolutely undoes her from a friend from her past. Edie finds out that her mother was evacuated from London as a child to Milderhurst Castle in Kent during World War II, and that it was a defining time in her life. This is discovered through trickles of information: from Edie’s Aunt Rita, through the letters that Aunt Rita gives her “on the sly” that Edie’s mom had written from Milderhurst, and most importantly, from Edie’s visit (accidental at first, and then intentional) to Milderhurst Castle and the three elderly sisters who live there together. Edie also discovers that the sisters’ father was none other than Raymond Blythe, the author of her favorite book from childhood, The True History of the Mud Man. What she also discovers is that there is likely more to this story, all of the stories, than meets the eye, and it’s a long, sordid, sad tale of madness, manipulation, and estrangement.
One thing I like a lot about this story is the fact that Edie is a reader, and Morton really gets what that means :
All true readers have a book, a moment, like the one I describe, and when Mum offered me that much-read library copy mine was upon me. For although I didn’t know it then, after falling deep inside the world of the Mud Man, real life was never going to be able to compete with fiction again. I’ve been grateful to Miss Perry [the librarian] ever since, for when she handed that novel over the counter and urged my harried mother to pass it on to me, she’d either confused me with a much older child or else she’d glimpsed deep inside my soul and perceived a hole that needed filling. I’ve always chosen to believe the latter. After all, it’s the librarian’s sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader.
And later, this is from one of the sisters’ point of view:
She had been in London for exactly two days and still she couldn’t quite believe it. She felt like a fictional character who’d escaped the book in which her creator had carefully and kindly trapped her; taken a pair of scissors to her outline and leaped, free, into the unfamiliar pages of a story with far more dirt and noise and rhythm. A story she adored already: the shuffling, the mess, the disorder, the things and people she didn’t understand. It was exhilarating, just as she’d always known it would be.
Another part of the story I like is growth that Edie’s and her parents’ relationships undergo. These two things, along with Morton’s wonderful way with description and the creation of (mostly creepy, admittedly) atmosphere make this story a pleasure to read.
However, in the end, as I’ve already indicated, I can’t say that I love this story, or even really like it. It is creepy, but it’s really not scary, so I handled that part okay. Overall, though, the story is just sad, and I almost felt voyeuristic as I read it. It’s really a psychological tale, and I really don’t like those too much. It’s also long, and it goes back and forth from the present to the past, which is not my favorite pacing and plotting of a story. I guess the bottom line is that it’s a great story if you like this kind of gothic, psychological, sad novel, but I really don’t. According to the book’s cover, it was a NYT bestseller, so obviously, a lot of people liked it. I think it’s a case of the wrong book for the reader (or the right book for the wrong reader?). Here are a few of the reviews I read that made me want to read it to begin with:
- Sarah’s review at Small World Reads (the book also made her best of 2012 list)
- Jennifer’s review at 5 Minutes for Books
I think I’m swearing off bestsellers (once again) for the time being. I might revisit Kate Morton again, but it will be a while. I think I need to read something right now to expunge the cold and mildew from the Milderhurst Castle walls from my soul. (2010)