The Distant Hours

Rating: 5 out of 5.
the distant hours book cover

Kate Morton, 2010

This is a story of love in many forms: love between father and child, mother and child, sisters, brothers; romantic love, love of home, and love of books.  It seems the journey from beginning to end is long – but when I got to the final destination I realized that the tale just takes as long as it takes.

During World War II Meredith Baker, a pre-adolescent girl, was evacuated from London to the countryside with her siblings, but ended up being placed separately with the three Blythe sisters, daughters of celebrated author Raymond Blythe, at their home called Middlehurst Castle.  Meredith leaves a few years later and resumes her London life, eventually marrying and giving birth to daughter Edie Burchill who herself gets to visit the castle several times; the longest visit is to write the preface to a new release of Raymond Blythe’s 1918 book The True History of the Mudman.

This summary sounds maybe a little dry; the novel is anything but.  There are the voices in the walls, you see, and so much unrequited love.  Some plot-reveals that the author may have meant to be surprises aren’t all that surprising, while other subtle twists will expose the way in which The True History of the Mudman is unavoidably and tragically tied to the fate of the three Sisters Blythe.

The story is narrated mainly in the first person by Edie, who works in publishing in the 1990’s.  The point of view shifts frequently though, with changes in perspective and in time, moving between the 90’s and the 1940’s, and even earler.  Each of the Sisters Blythe tells part of her story (but in second person, as with everyone except Edie), and we also hear from Meredith Burchill nee Baker and, very briefly, the young Thomas Cavill, in what is arguably one of the most poignant depictions of love and hope in literature today.

I listened to the audio version; Caroline Lee’s Australian accent, while easy on the ears, did cause me to repeatedly and mistakenly place Middlehurst somewhere Down Under instead of in Kent in the UK, but I got over it. I was left with a sense of a family saga come full circle. I was especially struck by the plight of the children of wartime London; it’s much more real in this story than in any Narnia installment.

The Distant Hours is part gothic novel, part mystery, and part love story.  When you get to the end, you’ll see that the story just – takes as long as it takes.