At 670 pages, The Distant Hours is a daunting and hefty book. But once you have opened it, it is easy to lose yourself inside the wonderful world that Morton has created. The book begins with the prologue of ‘The True History of the Mud Man’, a children’s story by the fictional author Raymond Blythe. This story is mentioned time and again throughout the book and is one of the many threads holding the plots together. Although we never actually get a chance to read the whole of The Mud Man, it is soon clear that it is vital to the storyline and to the lives of all the characters.
The main narrator of The Distant Hours is thirty year old editor, Edie Burchill. When a long-lost letter is received in the post, half a century late, an interest in her mother’s past is awakened. Curiosity and coincidence bring Edie to the very place where the letter came from. One thing leads to another and soon Edie is drawn into the spellbinding mystery of the Sisters Blythe and Milderhurst Castle.
This is a book full of secrets and mysteries and it is hard not to get wrapped up in them all. As Edie researches and slowly unravels the story of her mother’s evacuation to Milderhurst Castle in the Second World War, and learns more about the history of the Blythe family who live there, the reader is taken back to the past in the form of three other narratives.
We are introduced to the Blythe twins, Percy and Saffy in 1941 as they prepare for an important evening, one which will change their lives forever. We also jump a little further back, to 1939, when Edie’s mother is a thirteen year old evacuee, waiting to be collected by her new family. This is when we meet the star of the novel, the enchanting Juniper Blythe, the younger and much loved half sister of the twins. Later on in the book, we also read about Juniper’s time in London with the handsome Tom Cavill.
These four main narratives are intertwined to create a very detailed history of Milderhurst Castle. You might even say a little too detailed. I do love to completely lose myself in a different world, especially one so well thought out and described as this one, but Morton over does it in this book, making the storyline more complex than it has to be. There are a few main plots and mysteries which are thoroughly captivating and it is a shame that smaller storylines and romances are squashed in, taking away from the main strengths of the book. Although I think it was necessary to include all of the narratives, I did get disoriented with jumping from the past to present day, and often had to double check the date to remind myself which year I was in.
Once you get used to the changing time periods, you can really appreciate the characters. Edie is likeable enough and easy to relate to if you are a shy, bookish person, but it is the Blythe sisters that particularly interest me. Juniper Blythe is the sister with the most charisma and creative flair. She is not pretty in the usual sense, but breathtakingly different. There are whispers and secrets surrounding the once lively girl, who now stares into space, reliving a terrible evening many years before. The younger twin, Saffy is a light hearted, motherly character who helps with the daily running of the house and sometimes lets her imagination run away with her. But the eldest sister is my favourite character of all. Percy is not particularly likeable. She is bossy, controlling and short tempered, but as you read, you realise there is more to her than meets the eye. She is part of what makes Milderhurst Castle so great. Her heart belongs to the castle and her family, and she takes the role of protector very seriously.
I feel as though Kate Morton was trying too hard with this novel. The tension building techniques were too obvious, even though they did have me wanting to know more. Unfortunately at times this did just slow the pace down and I would think to myself, ‘just get on with it!’ I think in Morton’s case, less would have been more. Less words, less sub plots, less detail… instead of looking like an incredible novel, it would have been one.
I do feel sad to write such things about the book, because on the whole I really enjoyed it. The main plot is excellent, the detail into the whole history of the Blythe family is exceptional – I just think it could have been so much better.
Don’t listen to what I say! Read this book if you like mildewed castles, secret letters, mysteries and eccentric characters – Click the picture below!