Happy first Friday of 2013, friends. Special thanks to Carrie Rubin for all the love that came this way after she linked blogs with me earlier this week, and to all those who’ve come by since! So nice to have company!
Warning: this post runs a bit longer than normal but I hope you stick it out. Couldn’t figure out the best way to break it down.
I’m a reader. Surprise, right? Maybe not as dedicated or ardent as some, but I love a good story. And I’ve read many books.
I recently posted my take on author Carrie Rubin’s debut, The Seneca Scourge. Before that, I’m pretty sure the last books I talked about were Karen Kingsbury’s One Tuesday Morning and its sequel, Beyond Tuesday Morning. The former changed me, in a way. Resonates with me still.
I wrote this, however, on the heels of having finished Aussie author Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours, the first and only of hers I’ve read so far. (Disclaimer: I share these thoughts because I choose to, not because I was paid to do so in any way. As with so many others, this book found me. My friend thought I’d enjoy it.)
My friend was oh-so-right.
Honestly, I’ve never felt so humbled by the scope and magnitude of a wordsmith’s work, doubt I’ll ever equal this one’s ability to develop and then tell a story of such quality. Maybe I haven’t read enough, but I’ve never before experienced a tale so intricately and profoundly layered. Every thread, every detail accounted for before expertly woven and seamlessly sewn together; a multitude of puzzle pieces gathered into a final story portrait of near perfection.
I say ‘near’ for these reasons:
The story starts slowly. We meet Edie Burchill, whose mother, Meredith, receives a letter that should have been delivered fifty years earlier. Her enigmatic ways and decision not to share details of the letter pique Edie’s curiosity. Driven by a force she can’t explain, Edie finds herself literally stepping into her mother’s past, meeting face-to-face the spinster sisters who took in thirteen year-old Meredith as an evacuee from London during WWII. Edie also winds up learning a whole lot more about the book that inspired her as a child, its author, his family and the story events that led to the creation of a renowned and revered best seller. (FYI, Ms. Morton starts you off at a leisurely pace, but she picks up momentum steadily and takes you full-throttle into a climax laden with twists that surprised me with their brilliance and not a loose thread left hanging.)
The protagonist’s viewpoint (and main story mood) waxed a bit boggy, at times slowing the pace when I liked the way the story was gaining speed. This, however, tied into the framing of the account; important to the protagonist unraveling the mystery, but a little frustrating when jump-cutting between Edie’s contemporary present (set in London, England) and the WWII background against which the mystery played out (set in London and a fictional castle along the English countryside). At times, the jump-cuts in time made it a bit difficult to pick up where I’d left off at that part of the story. The breaks, however, resulted in a place to take a well-needed breather, and to digest all that had transpired in that section.
Perhaps one or two story details felt a hair contrived—and possibly the ending to some degree, but the author used each in a way that revealed character and/or motivation, or to bring full circle key elements used throughout the story. Abundant use of detail also had me looking back on many occasions; to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, or that I fully understood how every minute facet related to any particular part of the story at any given point.
Having shared all that, let me tell you what I liked!
The author’s voice worked effortlessly into tangible descriptions of abstract concepts to develop each character, regardless of the point of view (POV). A simple action: a haircut, knitted and crafted to deliver deep insight to character—brilliant! (p. 257-258). Some examples:
“Other people, Daddy’s pompous friends…, just seemed to take up more air than they should.” (p. 303)
“Her skin felt tighter than usual.” (p. 310)
“She was less of a girl, taller, stretched, anxiously filling her extra inches.” (p. 411)
Ms. Morton’s fresh use of metaphor resulted in vivid mind pictures and associations as I read:
“Juniper was rather catlike, after all: the wide-apart set eyes with their fixed gaze, the lightness of foot, the resistance to attention she hadn’t sought.” (p. 123)
“…the autumn of discarded papers on the floor.” (p. 122)
The author’s way of showing tangled, honest emotion(s):
“Mum and Dad were snobs. I felt embarrassed for them and embarrassed for me, and then, confusingly, angry with Rita for saying it and ashamed of myself for encouraging her to do so.” (p. 192)
And back to Kate Morton’s voice, probably the strongest—yet equally gentle—I’ve read in a long time. I’m thinking her view of the world is unexpectedly embedded in each of the characters she brings to life.
“John Keats said that nothing became real until it is experienced.” (p. 295)
“He would be a different person by then, inexorably altered, …as damaged as the city around him…. He would know that while John Keats was correct, that experience was indeed truth, there were some things it was well not to know firsthand.” (p. 303)
“Happiness in life is not a given. It must be seized.” (p. 352)
I could go on.
Guess what I’m saying is this: if you want an awesome read and are willing to go the circa 600-page marathon, The Distant Hours may be just your cup of tea. Make sure to grab a scone or two before you cuddle up.
Have a great weekend,