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Book Review: The Distant Hours

This is the sort of book that allows you to loose yourself, not only in a world and time that has past, but in its delicious and original prose. Once again, Morton has crafted a wonderful story premised upon Gothic motifs but extending and challenging these in ways that make the tale difficult to classify but increase its reading pleasures.

Segueing between England during WWII and the present, it follows the story of Edie, an editor working in a boutique publishing house and a letter her rather remote mother receives and responds to strangely. An evacuee during the war, Edie’s mother, Meredith, is very reticent about the period she spent in Mildehurst Castle, the decaying home of the famous author of The True History of the Mud Man (a book that has, we learn, influenced Edie’s life choices), and his three beautiful daughters, the Blythe sisters. Edie is compelled to unravel the secret that causes her mother such distress and which, when she visits the castle and meets the now elderly and spinster Blythe sisters, calls to her, demanding her attention.
Morton has the most ingenious and lush way with words. Her writing is rich, moving and eloquent yet never alienating.

On the contrary, it plunges you into the Blythes’ languid and sad world and does not let you go. Just as the characters are beautifully drawn, so too is the castle which is another major character in the novel. Like the sisters, it too was once a great beauty, but time and neglect and the burden of its many histories and inner lives have left it a pale and tragic imitation of what it once was. Edie, along with the reader, is fascinated by what she senses lurking i

n the shadows of the castle walls and the sisters’ and their father’s history as well as her mother’s connection to them all. When the opportunity arises to play a role in uncovering this, Edie takes it only, what she discovers is not what she anticipated.

Once more, Morton has written a beautiful story of love, loss, and the ties that both bind and oppress. This book is as much about the ways family can protect, define and imprison us as it about how the actions of the past live on in the present.

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