In the little amount of time I’ve spent with Kate, I feel as though I’ve known her forever. So much so, that I feel like we’re on a first-name basis. Nevermind the fact that I, of course, don’t know her and that we have never met; quite likely, we never will. She is, after all, a bestselling author and lives on another continent.
But dangit, if I don’t actually feel like she and I are now friends. Each time I set her book down after a nice, luxurious afternoon of reading it feels like I’ve been chatting with her in a cozy café on the corner of a cobblestone street over a cup of coffee (of course Kate would have probably ordered tea – see, I do know her) for hours, not wrapped up in a blanket on my own couch, anxiously hoping nap time will extend itself a few minutes longer so I could finish just one more page.
Kate Morton, author of The Distant Hours, is such a masterful storyteller that not only does she – quite simply – tell a good story, she reveals pieces of herself throughout the novel.
Or, at least, the characteristics divulged give clues to what I’m imagining she’s like. She has to be, though; the passion with which she writes about her characters’ love of books, the art behind the written word, and even the intricacies of the publishing process is so powerful, those are sure to be attributes of her own self spilling into the world of the Blythe sisters and playing out in the mother-daughter dynamics of our heroines, Edie and Meredith.
But enough about my new best friend Kate. Because as fantastic as she surely is, the book is even better.
The story of The Distant Hours is fueled primarily by a letter, one received 50 years too late. A lot happens in five decades … hearts are hardened, dreams extinguished, lives lost. But words live on. And Morton depicts that beautifully, ingeniously leading her readers through a maze of characters, back stories and subtext delicately interwoven into a truly beautiful narrative. There’s some mystery along the way, betrayal even, but mostly the book is about the beauty of words, both written and unwritten, said and unsaid.
As seamlessly as the book takes us back and forth in time, transporting us from present-day to WWII, Morton’s transitions between her characters is just as effortless.
The letter sent to Edie’s mother Meredith and the subsequent history it produces does more than strengthen their mother-daughter bond, it sets other secrets free, unraveling them from a half-century’s white-knuckled grasp. Juniper, Percy and Saffy Blythe make up what Edie refers to as the Sisters Blythe, a trio of spinsters, willed (quite literally by stipulations put forth in his last will and testament) by their mentally ill father to a life confined to their castle.
The letter takes Edie into her to her mother’s childhood when Meredith was evacuated during the war and sent to live with the Sisters Blythe. Edie’s investigation offers her a new appreciation for her mom, and the letter helps to fill in the gaps, not just for the two of them, but for, among other things, the sisters themselves, the mysterious disappearance of a young man and – some could even say – the castle itself. It speaks of – and ultimately for – the distant hours of all of their lives. Simply put, for a true character-driven reader, this novel is an absolute treat.
So the next time you’re looking for a good book, pick up a copy of this or either of her other two titles, carve out a few hours for yourself and settle in.
And be sure to tell Kate hello for me.