Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a well-crafted, engrossing story. (Sometimes I’m not–often, nothing does the trick for me like nonfiction.) This week, though, I needed something to totally suck me in. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton was just the thing. I was a little leery of giving another Kate Morton a try since it took quite a while for me to get over The Distant Hours— the heebie-jeebie, creep factor was strong with that one for me. I kept reading glowing recommendations of The Clockmaker’s Daughter, though, so I thought the time might be right to give Morton another chance. I’m glad I did, as this one strikes just the right notes of historical accuracy (if not to actual events, at least to the-way-things-were), romanticism, and characterization, three things I love in a story.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is quite a complicated story, told across more than a century, and from differing viewpoints. The story opens with Elodie Winslow, an archivist with an archival firm in London, who discovers a leather satchel and a sketchbook in a forgotten box at her place of employment. Just as we get to know Elodie and her modern-day life in London and begin to ponder with her the identity of the satchel’s owner, we are taken backward in time to meet a host of other characters: a woman named Juliet and her three children, fleeing the London during the Blitz; a schoolgirl named Ada , transplanted by her well-meaning parents from India to the English countryside to receive her education as a proper English lady; and to Edward Radcliffe and his Magenta Brotherhood, a group of artists and their entourage. Central to all of their stories is a proper English farmhouse, Birchwood Manor, that sits on the banks of the upper Thames and links each character to all the others.
Morton’s style is such that I never want to miss a sentence, or even skim over it. Often her way of turning phrases has me re-reading them to I can study them again, turning each one over myself in my mind, so I can consider all its meaning. Here’s a sampling of passages I marked:
Was it only because he was her youngest that Juliet worried especially about Tip? Or was it something else–an innate, gossamer frailty she sensed in him; the fear that she could not protect him, that she would not be able to mend him if he broke.
“Don’t slide down that rabbit hole,” the Alan in her mind said cheerily. “The way down’s a breeze, but climbing back up’s a battle.”
This one made me laugh because it’s true! I’ve been down that rabbit hole too many times, and climbing out is a chore.
Tip, in a pair of faded dungarees at least an inch too short, propelled himself forward like a windup doll, his short legs racing as he chased his brother and sister across the grass towards the track that met the river. Beatrice had stopped by the big old stone barn at the top of the coach way and was holding out her arms. Tip leapt into them when he was close enough, and she slid him around so that he could clamber onto her back. What it was to be the youngest of three–what luck to be born into a jumbly, rowdy group of bigger people and be simply adored.The Clockmaker’s Daughter, chapter 19
Having four children myself, I think this about our “baby” often, though not in such eloquent terms.
Of course, these are small snippets that reveal nothing of the plot of the story. What they do reveal, though, is one thing that endeared this story so much to me as I read it: Morton communicates well the nature of relationships and love. I particularly identified (obviously) with Juliet, but each of the point of view characters, in his or her own way, was easy for me to relate to.
The driving idea behind this story (I hesitate to actually call it a theme–it’s not so heavy-handed as that) is best summed up in this exchange early in the novel between Elodie and her elderly landlady. Mrs. Berry and her husband had endured much over the course of their lives: her husband, a Kindertransport child brought to live in England, never saw his parents again. The Berrys endured business troubles, infertility, sickness–but were able to remain unbroken because of their love for each other:
“I’m telling you all this not because I feel like a stroll down memory lane or because I like to tell my young friends sad stories on sunny Friday evenings; I just–I wanted you to understand. I wanted you to see what a balm love is. What it is to share one’s life, to really share it, so that very little matters outside the certainty of its walls.”The Clockmaker’s Daughter, chapter 3
This book isn’t one I’d pick for myself as a must-read, given the fact that it’s a ghost story of sorts (I’m trying to give NOTHING away, so that’s all I’ll say about that!) However, this one is in the vein of Jane Eyre or Rebecca, even. If you enjoy atmospheric, gothic stories with a bit of madness about them, and especially ones that include some interesting history to boot, this one might be worth a chance. The setting is positively enchanting. It has also piqued my curiosity about the poor in Victorian England. All I really know about this subject I learned from Charles Dickens (and reading Jonathan Auxier’s latest book, Sweep, last year). At any rate, this is a page-turner and one I’m happy to give a Highly Recommended. (2018)
With this book I’m embarking on The Brit Trip Adventure at Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks. According to this really cool, new-to-me blog called The Book Trail, it’s possible (probable?) that Kate Morton based Birchwood Manor ‘s location on the village of Lechlade-on-Thames in Gloucestershire. That puts me on the list for Fosse Way:
- Gloucestershire (The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton)
Any recommendations for books set in the other counties on the list?