Amanda Gates

Book: The Distant Hours

We read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden for book club last year and it ended up being one of my top books of 2011. After falling in love with that story, I wanted to "Jodi-Picoult" Morton. What’s “Jodi-Picoult-ing”? When I read one book (i.e. My Sister’s Keeper) that I think is fabulous and proceed to read every other book by that author. Alas, I did get tired of Picoult’s formula after several novels and haven’t read her since.

Anyway, I grabbed up The Distant Hours almost immediately last fall, but once I got about halfway through, my library holds kept popping up and I had to put it down until the new year. Like Picoult, Morton has a formula. She tells stories that take place in different times/generations; there’s usually one main narrator, but her stories will jump away from that person frequently. And she always jumps away right when you don’t want her to. You’re constantly like, “No! I was just on the edge of my seat and now I’m back to 2006 again…” But it works. (I’ve heard the formula is similar for her other book, The House at Riverton.)

Morton has a way of telling haunting, mysterious stories. There’s usually even a creep factor involved, but not so creepy it turns you off completely (or the creepiness comes right at the end, so by that time you're done). The Distant Hours focuses around a young editor, Edie, Edie’s mother Meredith, and a castle in England, which houses three sisters who Meredith stayed with during WWII. The story bounces between all these characters, and centralizes around the mysteries that the castle, and the sisters, hold. Morton does a good job of throwing you off the scent, which is saying a lot, because I can usually figure out the mysteries of books, movies and TV shows well before the mid-point.

If I had to compare, The Forgotten Garden is better. I was invested a bit more in the characters and the mystery wasn’t quite as creepy. I was left thinking for days about the story, and not so much with this one. And while both have a sad note to them, The Distant Hours is far sadder. I expect that one could get tired of Morton’s formula if she had five or more novels to burn through. But she really does excel at jumping back and forth in time, and developing secondary story lines that are just as intriguing as the main story.

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