Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton, reviewed by Michelle Miller

Atria Books, 2018, 482 pages, $14. 16 in paperback from Indigo here.

I'm a huge Kate Morton fan. I've read each of her books, and every time a new one is released I eagerly buy it as soon as I can and devour it with enthusiasm. Kate Morton has this incredible talent of always astounding me each time I finish one of her books. Just when I think I've figured her out, she manages to surprise me with a plot twist, making her stories mysterious, alluring, and so, so enjoyable to read. 
This novel did not disappoint.
It was exactly what I had hoped for and much more. I am consistently dumbfounded at Morton's ability to intricately weave together different narratives and time lines to create a cohesive story. This book was no different.
The Clockmaker's Daughter, as the title describes, revolves around a woman called Birdie Bell, whose father made and repaired clocks. It becomes obvious rather quickly that Birdie is a ghost inhabiting Birchwood Manor, a house that is a common denominator throughout the book. The story is told across various times, examining the experiences of different people in the house. It begins with Elodie in 2017, who is led to the house upon discovering a satchel with a sketchbook within. It's through this discovery that she encounters a great mystery: something tragic happened when a group of artists stayed at Birchwood Manor in 1862.
Going backwards in time, the readers meet young Ada Lovegood in the year 1899, where she attends school at Birchwood. The house had been turned into a school for girls for a short time, and Ada finds herself trying to avoid a persistent bully, with enormous ramifications.
We then go forward in time to meet Leonard in 1928, where he is recovering mentally from WWI and losing his brother. He has been granted stay at Birchwood Manor so that he might write an informative book about what took place in 1862, the night that a girl was murdered, another went missing, and a priceless family heirloom was stolen.
Going forward in time once more, we meet Juliet and her three children who take refuge in Birchwood Manor in the year 1940 after the Blitz destroyed their London home.
All the while, the novel hops back to Birdie Bell's story as a ghost, desperate to have someone discover the truth of what happened on that horrible night in 1862, but unable to truly communicate. Elodie seems to be that person as she stumbles upon Birchwood in her search for the truth.
Kate Morton
This novel is very layered and woven together beautifully, with distinct narratives and different voices across time, all with the same key place: Birchwood, the house that calls to each of them and offers them protection in a time of need. Throughout the book, we discover how each story in connected, in ways that are both unpredictable and fascinating. This book, like all of Morton's books, tugs at the heartstrings of readers and may very well bring a tear to the eye. But it remains beautiful and wondrous throughout.
There are times, however, that it may be confusing to some readers since there are so many different characters, each with brother, sisters, mothers, and fathers who are mentioned. It can be difficult to keep track of who experienced what in their past, who had the father that died, who had the brother that went to war, etc.
Furthermore, the book's title suggests a large focus on the fact that Birdie's father was a clockmaker, although it is only mentioned once or twice. I believe the book wasn't properly named, for there were much more important elements that kept reappearing (such as Birchwood Manor, the sketchbook, the satchel, the river, art and artists, etc.) that could have made for a better suited title. Something such as The Ghost of Birchwood perhaps? This book differs from her others in that there is no real "main" character. There is Birdie, Elodie, Edward, and Lucy who are arguably all main characters.
Despite some initial confusion, this book manages to answer all of the reader's questions, makes connections that indirectly provide answers, and satisfies all the way until the very last word. Like I said, Kate Morton continues to amaze me with her literary genius, her ability to interlace multiple narratives, and her talent for rich, enthralling writing. Each time I read her books I think to myself, Wow, this is why I love her books so much. And each time I finish a book I cannot wait for another one to be released.
Goodreads rates this title a 3.8/5, which if you ask me is far too low. I myself give it a 4.8/5 and would absolutely recommend it. You won't be disappointed.

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Michelle Miller is an avid reader, an amateur artist, and an emerging writer. Her first novel is currently being edited. Michelle lives with her son and two dogs in Peterborough, where she is currently earning her teaching degree and writing at any opportunity. For more of her reviews, visit her blog here

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