SUMMARY (from Goodreads): A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but mouldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WW II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941.
Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.
It took me a month and a half to finish this book. I read other books alongside, that is true, but I only did this because I just could not make myself read more than twenty to thirty pages at a time. I actually really got into the book only for the last 200 pages (of nearly 700) or so.
My point is: The Distant Hours is an extremely slow read. The reasons for this are mainly two. Firstly, it is too descriptive, and it pays too much attention to the things which are not significant for the story. Secondly, there is too much focus on the language. The writing is beautiful, but it is too crafty. Every sentence does not need to be the state of the art. It does not necessarily make a great book, but, as in this case, it can make a slow one.
The characters did not interest me almost until the very end. It is strange, because I have some things in common with most of the female characters – I love reading and writing, I know what it means to be responsible for your family, and I am familiar with being attached to one’s home – yet I could not connect with any of them. For the major part of the book I did not care what happens to any of them. I found them dull, too co-dependent, and incapable of fighting for their happiness.
Nevertheless, Kate Morton tells a clever story which unravels completely unpredictably. The final resolution is thoroughly surprising, and I never saw it coming.
The Distant Hours is at its core a gothic tale of madness and tragedy. It is a story about people making foolish choices, sometimes based on misunderstandings, thus demonstrating the well known saying – the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Therefore, the Blythe sisters and their friends fall victims to Raymond Blythe’s actions.
In the end, the only character I grew to like was Juniper Blythe. Of all the characters in the book she is the most tragic and the most innocent figure. I wished her story would have turned out differently.
Overall, The Distant Hours stays close to Morton’s other books plot-wise, though not style-wise. It could be shortened by half and still tell the whole story.
RECOMMENDATION: The Distant Hours may appeal to those who enjoy good writing and gothic tragedy. If you liked other books by Kate Morton, you might also enjoy this one.