I read Kate Morton's The House at Riverton some years ago and really loved it. I am fascinated with old houses and the possible secrets they hold. I discovered I have two books of hers on my shelves, so started out with The Distant Hours. What a read, just what I love. The personal stories of the characters keep you enthralled all through the book. Little by little the story of their lives come alive before you, and mostly, it is not what it seems.
The novel starts with a life changing event. Edie, is a young woman working as editor in small publishing firm. She has just broken up with her boyfriend, without telling anyone. She know her mother will be disappointed in her. When she goes for her regular visits to her parents to eat dinner, her estranged relationship with her mother will change forever. While there, her mother receives a letter sent 60 years ago. Her mother, always keeping her feelings in control, gets very emotional over the letter, without explaining further. However, she does tell her daughter that she was evacuated to Kent during the war, and lived with three sisters and their father in the grand, ancestral home of Milderhurst Castle. The letter was from the youngest sister, Juniper.
She also discovers that the castle was the home of the author of her favourite childhood book, "The True History of the Mud Man". It is also said that the youngest daughter, Juniper, was driven mad when she was abandoned by her fiancé. Destiny starts working and it is not long before, by chance, Edie ends up close to Milderhurst Castle, and decides to go and have a look at the place where her mother spent some happy years in her youth and the house that saw of her favourite book being born.
Edie takes a guided tour of the castle and meets the Blythe sisters, Persephone (Percy), Seraphina (Saffy) and Juniper. The sisters are now in their 80ies and still struggling on their own to keep the castle in order, without money and much help. As Edie is asked to write an introduction to a new edition of the "True History of the Mud Man" she is invited to the sisters to go through the archives for the historical background. It was always thought that the novel was based on real events, but the author did not reveal anything before his death. As Edie starts looking through the old papers of the author, hearing the story of her mother's time in the castle and starts investigating while the fiancé of Juniper never turned up, she finds out more than she would have liked.
As the story is revealed we have to revise our own thoughts about its characters and the events that lead up to present day. It is presented little by little, and you hardly realise that you get more and more knowledge of the lives of the sisters and all your presumptions are put up-side-down as you reach the end of the novel. It keeps you fascinating from page one and it is difficult to put it down. It is a wonderfully written novel, where the love of a house is at the centre. All characters are very well developed and you feel their joys and sorrows. The sisters are very sad characters and bound to a house where there is no way out. Or is there?