Review of “The Distant Hours” by Kate Morton

The story begins with Edie Burchill, a thirty-year old woman living in London and working as an editor. Her mother Meredith was one of the children who were evacuated from London during the bombing in World War II, and who had been taken to live at Milderhurst Castle during that time. The castle’s occupants, Percy (Persephone), Saffy (Seraphina) and June (Juniper) Blythe were the daughters of Raymond Blythe, famous for his horror story, “The True History of The Mud Man.” When Edie found out about her mother’s stay at Milderhurst, she became obsessed with finding out more about her mother’s past, and went to tour the castle and visit the three sisters.

This book alternates between 1993, telling Edie Burchill’s story, and fifty years earlier, telling the story of Milderhurst Castle and its inhabitants during the war years. In the process, we learn the dark secrets that tie the two families together and the present to the past, in an eerie replication.

Discussion: I knew when I was reading this that it was a “gothic novel” but it was more of an instinctual thing, so I set out to investigate just what one is, and whether in fact The Distant Hours meets that criteria.

The short version is that “Gothic is a genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance” (Wikipedia). Specifically, English professor Robert Harris lists these elements:

1. Setting in a castle.

2. An atmosphere of mystery and suspense.

3. An ancient prophecy connected with the castle or its inhabitants (either former or present). In modern examples, this may amount to merely a legend or ghosts that wander the halls.

4. Omens, portents, visions. A character may have a disturbing dream vision, or some phenomenon may be seen as a portent of coming events.

5. Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events.

6. High, even overwrought emotion. Characters suffer from raw nerves and a feeling of impending doom. Crying and emotional speeches are frequent. Breathlessness and panic are common.

7. Women in distress.

8. Women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male..

9. The metonymy of gloom and horror. Metonymy is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). (Included in this category are howling wind, blowing rain, thunder and lightening, eerie sounds, etc.)

10. The vocabulary of the gothic (i.e., words that suggest mystery, fear, terror, sorrow, etc., such as “ominous” or “wretched” or “mournful”).

11. Elements of Romance (including powerful love, uncertainty of reciprocation or unrequited love, tension between true love and father’s control, illicit love, rival love, or lovers parted).

And with this list, you have a pretty good summary of this book!

Evaluation: There is plenty of mystery and there are twists galore to keep you turning the pages in this unsettling story. At the end, I couldn’t decide if I felt happy or sad, but definitely some of both. The characters are well drawn, and the story is at turns creepy, tragic, and heart-warming. This book would be perfect for the Halloween season!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Atria, 2010

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27 Responses to Review of “The Distant Hours” by Kate Morton

  1. It does sound like it has all of the elements I enjoy. Her first 2 books were 4/5 reads for me, but was happy that I read them.

  2. Amanda says:

    I have The Forgotten Garden on my list – I’m glad to hear this one is good too! Maybe I’ll get to that first one sometime this spring, and then read The Distant Hours during RIP season!

  3. Trish says:

    I’ve been seeing Kate Morton’s name EVERYWHERE lately!

    After reading your definition of Gothic lit, it appears as though my thoughts were a little misaligned! I didn’t realize there was so much emphasis on castles. Huh. Does Wuthering Heights count as Heathcliff’s castle? 😉

    • Wikipedia says Wuthering Heights is a “manor” which is, if you ask me, a more modern name for a “castle,” so I’d say yes! :–) (Also of note: wuthering is a Yorkshire word referring to turbulent weather)

  4. JoAnn says:

    Sounds like fun! I really enjoyed The Forgotten Garden and have been wanting to read her first book, The House at Riverton. I’ll have to add this to my list, too.

  5. Sandy says:

    I don’t think I can wait for RIP for this one. I am on the waiting list for the audio, as soon as the library receives it. I really really enjoyed The House At Riverton, even though maybe it was just a few discs too long. Morton does gothic quite well!

  6. nymeth says:

    Is it evil of me to confess that I was hoping for some Jill snark here? 😛 I hated The Forgotten Garden with a passion, so I’m hesitant to ever try Morton again.

  7. marthalama says:

    I loved the The Forgotten Garden. I have the audio book I can’t wait to listen to but maybe I’ll try to wait for Halloween. (I’ll be honest I don’t think I can make it)

  8. Rural View says:

    The words “Gothic novel” usually put me off but I haven’t read one for quite a long time. Maybe I should give it a go?

  9. Sounds like a lot of fun! I’ve been in the mood for creepy novels lately, though I suppose this isn’t really the season for them!

  10. zibilee says:

    I have this book on my shelf and am eager to get to it. I LOVED that you identified all the elements of a gothic novel, as I was not really clear on some of them, and now I will be able to spot one a mile away! Thanks so much for being so informative on this!

  11. Julie P. says:

    I have this one and definitely need to read it. Now to find the time! LOL!

  12. Margot says:

    I went through a gothc novel phase in my teens, decided I didn’t like them anymore, and haven’t read one since. Now that I’ve grown up maybe I should give them a try again. I like the definition you’ve supplied here.

  13. I JUST downloaded this for my Nook and i’m so excited to start it!!

  14. bermudaonion says:

    Well, that description of Gothic doesn’t sound too enticing to me, but I still want to give this book a try.

  15. Marie says:

    I think you just sold me on the book. Page turning? Twists? Gothic? Bring. it. On.

  16. cousinsread says:

    I loved Kate Morton’s first novel, but haven’t been intrigued by the other two. I have The Forgotten Garden staring at me from my bookshelf right now and will one day dust it off, but not yet. I’m sure I’ll end up reading The Distant Hours at some point also, especially now that I know it is so definitely gothic!

  17. Jenners says:

    I always learn something when I visit here. Now I know what Gothic is (exactly).

    I can wait for Halloween I think. I do have another of her books to try. I know a lot of people like her stuff.

  18. softdrink says:

    The cover isn’t very gothicky. It looks all happy and innocent.

  19. kaye says:

    I love Kate Morton’s books and am so happy to see you enjoyed it enough to give it 4 stars. Thanks for including all the elements of a gothic novel and the explanation for metonymy. Such a wonderful review! Have a great weekend and happy reading.

  20. Wow this sounds excellent and I loved your description of what gothic was. I just finished The Forgotten Garden this week by this author and have bee curious about this one.

  21. Trisha says:

    This is such a creative way to review the book! Love it.

  22. Lisa says:

    When I finished “The Forgotten Garden” I was so ambivalent about it. But I liked enough about it that I thought I might want to read more by Morton. You’ve convinced me to give this one a try!

  23. Staci says:

    I can’t wait to read this one now…and I’m sure I can’t wait until Halloween!! But you never know with my crazy stacks of books!! 😀

  24. This book definitely had an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” feeling for me, but I enjoyed it more than Morton’s last book. I thought it was definitely on par with her first and I was glad to see her back. 🙂

  25. This is definitely one that I need to read. I’ve read The House at Riverton and really enjoyed it – I might be able to wait until October, and then I’ll download it on my Nook so I don’t have to lug a big book like this one around!

  26. stacybuckeye says:

    This is the Morton I have to try first.

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