Kate Morton’s novel, The Distant Hours, is a tantalizing, Gothic tragedy. Three sisters, one mysterious castle (Milderhurst), and a curious young woman (Edie) from a publishing company form the roots to this mysterious tale. As Edie seeks the story behind the story, she finds there is a lot more to The True History of the Mudman (a fictional work in Morton’s novel) than the sisters of Milderhurst are willing to share.
Having read one of Kate Morton’s other novels, The Forgotten Garden, I attempted to draw similarities between the two. Both of these stories have a “searcher” on a quest to learn about the past. However, I found myself much more dissatisfied with The Forgotten Garden because of its ending. Although Morton is a modern author, when you step into her novels, you feel as though you are reading something written by someone long ago who had a fantastic vocabulary. Case in point, “Directly before her a late butterfly hovered, fenders drawing in and out like the mirrored edges of a set of fireside bellows” (pg 100 of The Distant Hours).
Her writing bears none of the unfortunate marks of many modern authors: short sentences, bland vocabulary, or characters who are only chiseled and charming. No, Morton’s characters are real—frighteningly gritty at times. From pg 50 of The Distant Hours, “She was thin but tall, dressed in tweeds and a button-up collared shirt, almost gentlemanly in style. Her gender had been brittled by the years, any curves she’d had sunken long ago. Her hair had receded from her forehead and sat short and white around her ears with a wiry stubbornness; the egg-shaped face was alert and intelligent.”
You will enjoy this book if you like to hear writers write about writers, and if you are willing to follow Morton’s maze as she twists and winds this story. Morton’s writing style is an echo of the dark, foggy, mysterious style employed by Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre). In The Distant Hours, Morton’s descriptions are detailed, crisp and realistic, while her characters are painted so vividly, you will not soon forget them.