A letter arrives on the doorstep of Edie’s mother, 50 years after it was sent. The letter deeply wounds her mother, Edie can tell, but her mother brushes it off and refuses to speak about it. Edie and her mother were never close, so she sets out to uncover the past her mother is so anxious to hide, hoping to learn more about her distant parent. Edie learns from her aunt that her mother, Meredith, was an evacuee during WWII and was lodged with the three Blythe sisters in Milderhurst Castle, Kent. Ancestral home of Raymond Blythe, author of a best-selling and most beloved literary classic “The True Tale of the Mud Man”, Meredith enters a world she never knew existed but one that suits her introverted, inquisitive self. Gladly dusting off her working-class London roots, she immerses herself in learning, reading, and writing, spreading her wings and imagining an entirely new life other than that of a hair dresser, the role her mother intends for her. But Meredith’s parents fear the influences of the aristocracy and order Meredith back home, tearing her away from Percy, Saffy, and especially her closest friend, Juniper. But will Meredith continue down the path the Blythes have shown her, or will she succumb to her parents’ plans and wishes?
In the present, Edie vists Milderhurst and sees the elderly sisters first-hand. The castle is now in disrepair, the sisters’ father Raymond, long dead. Edie credits Raymond’s book with making her the reader and book editor she is today. Edie digs through the family’s history, wondering how her mother’s time at Milderhurst shaped her life and why her mother is so reluctant to discuss it. The castle is filled with dark secrets, sad memories, and eccentric personalities. Edie digs through the family’s history, wondering why her mother is so reluctant to discuss her time at Milderhurst and hoping to bridge the gap between mother and daughter.
Ms. Morton excels at imagery, character development, and wrenching emotions. The prose is beautiful, thought-provoking, and always carefully wrought. Sometimes, however, that includes a lot of tangents that take you far afield from the main plot. If you read more than one of her books, you’re used to the long, highly detailed detours she often takes. Many times these serve to deepen the story and provide glimpses into clues that will be more fully revealed later, but other times, especially towards the novel’s end, they can get tedious. Flashbacks, extraneous characters, and dreams tend to weigh down the narrative, particularly as you’re building up to the conclusion.
The other issue is that after such an incredibly long journey with these characters, we want the endings to be as impactful as the road we’ve taken to get there. In these books, that’s not always the case. To be fair, there are so many threads left hanging that not all can be made neat and tidy. Still, one of the biggest mysteries in this book was solved almost as an aside. Furthermore, even though we’ve come to rely on Edie as a bright, instinctive narrator, she takes someone’s almost flippant confession at face value, never imagining there might be other explanations.
If you read more than one of Kate Morton’s books, you discover a recurring theme: an ancestral home, family secrets, war time, a novelist, mental illness, and a modern day woman relentlessly seeking out the truths of the past. That’s not to say the stories aren’t entertaining and engaging; they certainly are. It’s just that you’ll get a very keen sense of déjà vu that only fuels one’s ability to guess the deep, dark secret well before the heroine does, since you already have a sense for how Ms. Morton’s tales are constructed. The tale itself is splendid – rich in description, emotion, and detail. The story from many perspectives is masterful. This is especially true if you listen to the Audible version, where narrator Caroline Lee, with her lilting Aussie accent, will help you while away the hours. If you need an escape, Ms. Morton’s books surely provide them and gorgeously depicted ones at that. But don’t be surprised if you get a feeling of “I already know this story” when you reach for another.
Amazon link is here.