The Distant Hours is Kate Morton's most recent book and the only one I hadn't yet read. When Edie Burchill's mother receives a letter that was lost in the mail for 50 years, Edie learns that her mother was evacuated from London during World War II and spent 18 months living at Milderhurst Castle in the country. When a business trip accidentally brings her to the village of Milderhurst, Edie can't resist a visit to the castle, particularly after learning it was the home of Raymond Blythe, who wrote her favorite childhood book, The True History of the Mudman. There she meets the three elderly Blythe sisters who cared for her teenage mother: the ninety-something twins Persephone and Seraphina, and their younger half-sister Juniper, who has never recovered from the disappearance of her fiancé 50 years earlier.

Edie becomes fascinated with the Blythe sisters and the castle. Her mother's reluctance to discuss her time at Milderhurst only fuels Edie's curiosity. As she unearths more of the story, she is surprised to learn that her mother was once a very different person than the proper housewife who raised her, that she was once as passionate about books as Edie is herself and dreamed of being a writer. Despite her mother's reticence, Edie is determined to learn as much about Milderhurst, the Blythes and the origins of her favorite book as she possibly can.

When I started reading The Distant Hours, I was struck by the number of story elements it had in common with The Thirteenth Tale. A grand old dwelling in the English countryside; a single, bookish young woman drawn into the tale of the family inhabiting said grand abode; twins girls; reclusive writers...and a couple more I'm not going to mention due to spoilers for both books. The story turned out quite differently, though, and knowing that Morton's writing is always heavily influenced by the classic Gothic literature, I think many of those plot elements are common to the genre.

There are also a number of themes in common with Morton's other two books, The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, as well as the style of shifting the narrative among several different characters and points in time. And while that's most successful in The Forgotten Garden, which remains my favorite, The Distant Hours was the first of her books where the majority of the Long-Buried Secret Truths came as a surprise to me, which made me happy. All in all, The Distant Hours is an intriguing story, and I very much enjoyed reading it. I hope Morton is working on another book.

And I'm looking forward to re-reading The Thirteenth Tale after my next book club selection. It's one of my favorite semi-recent reads, and I hope even more that Diane Setterfield is writing something new!


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