I waited a long time to read Kate Morton's, The Distant Hours. Both her other novels, The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton, are among my favourites. The book trailer I previewed many months ago was the perfect teaser, and the novel itself did not disappoint.
The book opens with the prologue from a dark and sinister children's tale, The True History of the Mud Man.
Something changes. The girl senses it and shivers. Presses her hand to the icy window and leaves a starry print within the condensation. The witching hour is upon her, though she does not know to call it that. There is no one left to help her now. The train is gone, the poacher lies beside his wife, even the baby sleeps, having given up trying to tell the world all that it knows. At the castle the girl in the window is the only one awake; her nurse has stopped snoring and her breaths are so light now that one might think her frozen; the birds in the castle wood are silent too, heads tucked beneath their shivering fenders, eyes sealed in thin gray lines against the thing they know is coming.
The story begins in England in the eary 1940's. A postman goes on a bender and leaves a satchel full of mail in his home for fifty years. The lost mail is finally delivered, and this is how a mysterious letter sent from a place called Milderhurst Castle, comes to arrive one Sunday in February of 1992, at the home of Edie Burchill's mother. Only child Edie is naturally curious about the contents of the letter, especially when her distant mother responds to it in such an emotional manner.
With some prodding, Edie discovers that her mother was evacuated from London during the Second World War. At the age of thirteen, Meredith finds herself in the village of Milderhurst, standing in a church hall, separated from her brother, her sister, and school friends, waiting to be selected to live with a local family. She is one of the last child evacuees to be selected.
"I wasn't the last to go. There were a few others, a little boy with a terrible skin condition. I don't know what happened to him, but he was still standing there in that hall when I left."
"You know, for a long time afterwards, years and years, I forced myself to buy bruised fruit if that's what I picked up first at the greengrocer's. None of this checking it over and over and putting it back on the shelf if it didn't measure up."
"She came in late. The room was almost clear, most of the children had gone and the ladies from the Women's Voluntary Service were putting away the tea things. I'd started to cry a little, though I did so very discreetly. Then all of a sudden, she swept in and the room, the very air, seemed to alter."
"...Oh, I don't know. Just more. Beautiful in an odd way, long hair, big eyes, rather wild looking, but it wasn't that alone which set her apart. She was only seventeen at the time, in September 1939, but the other women all seemed to fold into themselves when she arrived."
And now Kate Morton has hooked her reader. What happened to young Merry in the fall of 1939? Who was the seventeen year old beauty who came to claim her evacuee? What events transpired at Milderhurst Castle during the war years that have been hushed for half a century?
I'm not going to say too much more about the story- other than it is very "Miss Havisham-my."
I so love a good gothic, and this book has all of the required elements. But you can listen to Morton herself on how this story came to be. Here is a quick little video (I must warn you, not only is she an incredible storyteller, she has a cool accent, is some sort of PhD, has long shiny hair, a beautiful face, weighs about five ounces less than nothing... a bit depressing really... Would it be too much to ask that she looked more like Nanny McPhee? Okay, enough of my verbal green eyes of envy...) about The Distant Hours.
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