{all of the secrets and all of the lies}

It’s been a while since I posted because it took me a while to get through this book—I’ve spent the past 2-3 weeks listening to the recording of Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper. This was about 90% due to a free Audible download I acquired, and 10% due to my theory that I’d be able to focus more at the gym with a new recorded book than with the same playlists I’ve been listening to for at least the past four years (I will say that theory had a nearly 85% success rate the one time I tried it). This is the third Kate Morton book I’ve read (including The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours), so I felt enough of an expert to recommend her books as Christmas gifts for not one, but both grandmothers this year! So if you, too, share literary taste with your octogenarian relatives, I suggest you read on.

Like all her other books, TSK revolves around two main stories: the first from the past, relying heavily on orphans, lost lovers, and family secrets; and the second of a modern-day relative/somehow-involved person attempting to unravel the decades-old mystery. This particular book opens on a lazy summer afternoon in 1961, when 16-year-old Laurel witnesses her mother, Dorothy, commit a violent crime. Fifty years later and beside her mother’s deathbed, Laurel begins to make sense of what she saw and explore the trajectories of the past that culminated in that one act of desperation.

The majority of the story is told from three different viewpoints: the adult Laurel, the young Dorothy in war-torn London during the Blitz, and Vivian, Dorothy’s sophisticated and mysterious friend. As Laurel gradually uncovers, Dorothy and her fiancé became involved in a “plan” for their future that went terribly awry, a plan that resulted in deaths and irreparably shattered relationships, a plan with repercussions that reached 20 years into Dorothy’s future as a happily married mother.

As I’ve said, Morton’s books are highly formulaic, but this one had two major differences from the others I’ve read. First of all, I truly hated young Dorothy. I normally find the modern storyline to be the dullest: I’m less than interested in a thirty-something sad sack trying to figure out why she’s always felt her life to be missing something and then finding the answers in the past, etc., etc. Laurel, a 66-year-old Oscar-winning actress, was smart, resourceful, and had a refreshing amount of sass and cynicism about her (of course I identify with the grandmothers’ heroine). Young Dorothy, on the other hand, was revolting. Spoiled, whiny, manipulative, and quite frankly delusional, I found very little to recommend her throughout the entire story. I was far more interested with her fiancé, Jimmy (Morton’s excellent job of painting his carefree handsomeness and shock of brown hair falling into his face certainly did not hurt), and Vivian, who was just prickily enough to draw me in right away to whatever she was hiding.

The second thing that caught me off guard was the ending. No spoilers, but Morton’s MO is to divulge an “ending solution” to the mystery that all characters accept as true, then drop the real ending in a huge twist at the very end. I was practiced enough in this habit to recognize the false resolution as soon as it was revealed, but was equally certain that I knew exactly what the real ending would be. However, I was ultimately outsmarted—the true resolution was one that had never even occurred to me (although, looking back, it really should have).

This Christmas Eve, I’m sitting in my parents’ house in front of the fake gas fire, eating peppermint stick ice cream and watching my mother vacuum under the tree. In literary news, I’m giving my dad a copy of Wolf Hall and the movie A Man for All Seasons (the ultimate history nerd’s double feature!!). I also just finished She’s Come Undone, but since I’m behind on blogging and don’t have anything to read for the rest of my vacation, I’ll save it for next time.

In other words—happy holidays!!

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{mist in the distance}

About a year ago, I read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden. I believe it was part of an online book club through the Spokane Public Library that I’d optimistically signed up for, under the naïve impression that I both had time to read and would be able to find books I liked at Spokane’s many but sadly stocked library branches. TFG was a rare winner—and walks the fine line between literary fiction and the historical romances that I’ve already admitted to having a weakness for. So I decided to give Kate Morton another go with The Distant Hours.

Edie, a young British woman in the publishing industry (!!), suddenly finds her suppressed love of the Gothic thrust into the light as she journeys to Milderhurst Castle in pursuit of a family secret. In the castle live the three ancient Blythe sisters: twins Percy and Saffy and the younger Juniper, who hasn’t been quite right since her fiancé disappeared sixty years ago. They’re the three daughters of writer Raymond Blythe, who achieved literary fame with The History of the Mud Man, an eerily fascinating and mysterious children’s book that changed Edie’s life. According to the book jacket, “the truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past [at Milderhurst Castle] has been waiting a long time for someone to find it”—and Edie is that someone.

TDH is definitely Kate Morton. She’s got a certain tragic bent to her storytelling: she loves lost suitors, orphans, and family histories obscured by generations of lies and secrets. All in all, though, I found TDH less compelling than TFG. Both are mysteries, histories, and romances—but in TFG, all these components (especially the mystery) were right at the forefront, keeping the pages turning. In TDH, the juicy bits are strung out along lengthy interludes with minor characters I didn’t care too much about, descriptions of scenery, and similar red herrings.

So all in all—a good read, but not a great one. I’d recommend it to anyone who was intrigued by my summary above—but I’d recommend The Forgotten Garden more.