Top critical review
A distant circuitous narrative
Reviewed in Canada on January 12, 2014
I enjoyed Kate Morton’s first two books considerably. This book does have its good moments but does not measure up to what we have gotten to expect from Morton. The first third of the book (Part One) is boring. The readers are forced to spend time with two eccentric twin sisters who live in a ghoulish castle with a mentally deranged younger half-sister, their isolationist dominant father and a subservient house keeper. An up and coming writer, Edie, whose mother once lived at the castle—being an young evacuee from the London blitz, has become enthralled by a story about the Mud Man, authored by the spinsters’ father. She becomes obsessed with researching the history of the castle and its inhabitants, including the role her mother might have played.
We have to endure page after page of details about the twin sister's preoccupations to look after each other, to keep outsiders away, to care for their ailing father and younger sister, to preserve their castle, to maintain their idiosyncrasies and generally to try to make time stand still, concealing traumatic secrets that would topple their eerie house of cards. Thankfully the story progresses to become more interesting with Edie’s continuing research twining more and more lose ends together in the main plot which revolves around covert relationships, sibling rivalries, guilty consciences and diabolical secrets. The book has five parts containing numbered as well as titled chapters, each chapter further divided into the different perspectives of six characters in two timelines: 1939-1941 and 1992. There is a lot of shifting back and forth. At the end of the book I felt like rereading Part One to make better sense of the whole story, but I didn't.
I think Morton tried too hard to be gothic with this novel to the point where I felt I was reading a poor imitation of better constructed books with similar themes. I could have predicted the main component of the ending since it fit the theme of a number of other classic gothic tales. This novel needed more normalcy, sanity and fluency to be an engaging read. There was some of it but not enough.