It is a modern Gothic novel: three elderly sisters lost in the bowels of a decaying castle and a haunting story of love, betrayal and murder. The book is entitled The Distant Hours and it is the first book I have read by Kate Morton.
The castle is aptly named Milderhurst, and the three sisters are the sisters Blythe. Their father was a famous writer who penned a story that was entitled The True History of the Mud Man. During the Second World War the sisters take in a London evacuee Meredith, who finds a connection and a family in the sisters that she fails to find in her blue-color London biological one. She is forced to leave when her father comes to claim her, which severs the connection with the sisters indefinitely.
It is her daughter Edie who re-establishes a connection with the sisters Blythe. She is drawn to the castle-possibly through her mother- and by happenstance, asked by the sisters to write a forward to a new addition of The Mud Man. It is Edie who will uncover the secret of Milderhurst Castle.
The story is not simply a modern Gothic; it explores the relationship between Meredith and her daughter Edie as it evolves over time. After being torn away from Milderhurst castle and the sisters Blythe, Meredith subsumes the part of the free spirit and burgeoning part of her individuality that was being nurtured in the vast castle with the yet – young sisters. Through investigation into the sisters and the mystery of at least one man who went missing in the castle, Edie discovers a part of her mother that has been hidden- a part she can relate to.
While following the many characteristics of a Gothic novel, the ending is certainly a surprise. One of the sisters Juniper Blythe (the younger of the sisters and best friend of Meredith), has escaped to London and fallen in love with a man-Tom. He has asked to marry her, and she has accepted. They travel separately to Milderhurst castle where they intend to meet and tell the remaining twin sisters of their plans. However Tom never makes it. Juniper arrives with blood on her clothing and a confusion of time and place. Did she kill him? Then there is an added complexity- father Blythe has made a clause in the will in which the most gifted artist- the youngest Juniper Blythe – must be able to fulfill her artistic destiny, and therefore if she marries, the castle will go to the Catholic Church. Persephone Blythe, one of older twin sisters, is passionately in love with Milderhurst Castle and therefore a possible suspect in the disappearance of Tom. While the endings of most novels can be hypothesized, it is nice to find a book that has suspense even until the very ending.
The Distant Hours was a wonderful combination of past and present that knows the value of tying up unanswered questions. A great read for those of us that read fiction as a means of escape. The characters, while following typical Gothic stereotypes (aloof, beautiful, haunting and haunted), have a depth that transcends the pitfall of two- dimensionality. I was pleasantly relieved that while there was a love story in the novel, it didn’t dominate the entire book. While this book was long (560 pages including the Epilogue), it was well worth the time. I can’t wait to read another of Kate Morton’s books.