I find it highly amusing when people tell me they would love to be a librarian because "then I could just sit around and read all day!". Ah, how I wish that was what my job entailed! Librarians have almost zero time to read while working, and since I have a 5-year old at home, mommy reading time is sometimes kind of scarce there too. When I do read, I tend to read in spurts. I can go a couple of weeks, maybe even a whole month without reading an entire book and then bam! -- I read several back to back. I just finished one of those episodes. This time all of the books I read were really different from each other but equally great and a couple of them have lingered in my mind since I finished reading them. I love when books do that...
The first book I read in my little marathon was The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I picked it up on a whim because it sounded interesting, but also not like what I normally read. All of the reviews I read prior to opening the book called it a throwback to the "great Gothic novels" and honestly that genre has never really been my cup of tea. I decided to give it a shot anyway though, and was pleasantly surprised to become almost immediately hooked.
The book starts out in the early 1990's when we meet the main character Edith "Edie" Burchill. Edie lives in London and holds what I find to be the "literary cliche career" of working at a publishing house. (Come on, you know I'm right on this one.) Edie has just broken up with her live-in boyfriend, and has a tolerable but not particularly good or close relationship with her parents (particularly her mother). Then a long-lost letter arrives at her parents' house, and Edie discovers there is a whole different side to her mother than she ever imagined. Although she had never before talked about it, as a child, Edie's mother was sent to the countryside during the London bombings in World War II. Now this in and of itself was not so shocking because it was a pretty common occurrence at the time, but where she was sent was the clincher -- Milderhurst Castle. Milderhurst Castle was home to twin sisters Persephone "Percy" and Seraphina "Saffy" Blythe and their younger sister Juniper. Coincidentally, (or is it?) the castle is also the setting of Edie's favorite childhood story "The True History of the Mud Man", which was written by the sisters' father Raymond Blythe. This is where the Gothic element starts to bubble to the surface.
Edie discovers that Percy, Saffy, and Juniper are all still alive and still living in the castle. She soon gets drawn into the lives of these women and the mysteries surrounding their pasts. What happened in this castle? How was Edie's mother involved and why has she never mentioned it before? Where does the mud man story fit into it all? Kate Morton does an excellent job of weaving this tale together. Morton flashes back to the 1940's, and a couple of times even earlier, to fill in the back story. Some people find this technique hard to follow, but I thought the time changes here were really quite effortless. The pacing of the story was a little slow in the middle, but by the end she had wrapped up nearly every plot twist and unanswered question I had. Was I totally happy with how everything turned out? No, but then again being called a "Gothic novel throwback" doesn't really give off that sunshine and puppy dog vibe to begin with.
The book kept me thinking about the Blythe sisters for days after I finished reading it. The sisters and their commitment to each other and their family was haunting. It really resonated with me and raised several questions; What would you do for the people you love? How much is too much to sacrifice in the name of family? Is there such a thing as too much sacrifice? I also thought that the dynamics of the relationship between Edie and her mother were interesting. You mean our parents were people with lives before they were our parents? There might be things that they haven't told us about themselves? There were some scenes in the book that were a little corny, and a couple of plot points that were pretty predictable, but all in all The Distant Hours was a satisfying read. Springtime is right around the corner (supposedly) and this would be the perfect book to curl up with during a long afternoon thunderstorm.
I was going to write a bit about A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness as well, but this post is getting kind of long and I need to go to bed. Tomorrow maybe? We'll see how it goes. :)