Posted in Book Reviews

The Distant Hours – A Study of Human Mortality Hidden in a Historical Mystery

Have you ever had that feeling where you know that it is now the right time for you read a certain book. It may be one that you have owned for months or maybe even years and yet every time you have picked it up in the past, you just can’t get into it so you put it back and promise to try again in the future. Then, one day, you’re browsing your bookcase and sudden, it jumps out at you and you just know; Now is the right time, this is the book I need to read. That is what happened to me this week. I just couldn’t settle with anything. I think I maybe started about four or five books before finally picking out The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. After only a couple of paragraphs I knew, this was the book I was meant to be reading right now.

the distant hours

The Distant Hours is the third book by Kate Morton that I have read and follows similar themes to her other stories. There is a character is the present (or 1992 in this case) who is given a reason to start wondering about the past of a family member. The rest of the book is then split between the investigations of the present day character and the story of the past characters as it unfolds. I could see why this might annoy some people if they were looking for something different but at this particular time, I found the familiarity quite welcoming. As mentioned, I had found it hard to settle into anything this week so knowing what I was letting myself in for wasn’t really that bad of a thing.

In this case, the book tells the stories of Edie Burchill who wants to find out what happened during and following her mother’s time at Milderhurst Castle as an evacuee during the 1940s and the Blythe Sisters who took care of her.

Now, if there were a check list of things I love in books, this would have ticked off a good deal of them. There’s history, a castle, secret passages, a mystery and a main character with a love of books. However, there were times when I found this book quite difficult to read. This wasn’t anything to do with the writing as such but more to do with some of the themes in the story. The father of the Blythe Sisters is incredibly controlling and says and does some things that made me want to scream and shout at him for being so selfish and give him a good shake. I was left feeling incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t.

Another thing that made the book slightly uncomfortable for me is something that I find with all Kate Morton Books – that they force you to face up to your own mortality. I think it’s the way that you read about these characters when they are young, with their whole lives still ahead of them; you read about their hopes and dreams and they seem so certain about how things are going to play out. Then maybe a chapter later, you meet them again towards the end of their lives and more often or not, things haven’t gone the way they thought they would. There is also always at least one discussion where these people discuss how they know that they have more of their life behind them than in front.  Later on, you are back in the past and it can be heartbreaking when you are faced once again with the youthful versions of these characters that you now care quite deeply about.  They are still planning their lives and yet you know what is in store for them. It often leaves me feeling quite melancholy, and makes me think about my own life and whether I am doing enough to make the most of it. It’s a very powerful affect and it’s very well done. It’s not, however, something that you always want to think about when you just want to settle down for a quiet afternoon of reading.

One last grumble before I carry one with how good this book actually was – there is a lot of description and it sometimes made my head start to spin slightly. This particularly happened towards the end of the book where I was desperate to tie up the last loose end and finish the story and it just wouldn’t stop! Large amounts of description and jumping from character to character left me wanting to shake my kindle and just tell them to get on with it!

All this aside though, I did actually really enjoy this book. It was one of those that you fall into head first and get completely consumed by. I didn’t want to put it down until it was finished and when I had to, it was always on my mind, wondering what was going to happen next. I personally preferred the part of the story set in the 1940s and for me it scratched the same itch as Northanger Abbey. There was something distinctly gothic about the castle, stormy nights and descents into madness following a traumatic heartbreak. The plot remained unpredictable right up until the end with many twists and turns. There were many times while I was reading where I thought that I had figured out a plot point and only maybe about 1% of the time was I right. As an only child, I also find the insight into sibling dynamics and the bond between sisters interesting if not slightly confounding.

I would recommend The Distant Hours to anyone who enjoyed Kate Morton’s previous books (although I am aware that the copious amounts of descriptions have put off other readers), as well as anyone who enjoys stories set in the past or who just enjoy a good mystery. It’s a remarkable story with a vast amount of depth to it. I challenge anyone to be able to read it and not start to think about how fragile and unpredictable life can be. You are all welcome to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below. How did you find the book? Which time line did you prefer? What did you think of the characters? Let me know 🙂

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