Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

Sunday, August 19, 2018
Title: The Clockmaker's Daughter
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: historical
Series: N/A
Pages: 608
Published: expected September 2018
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.25/5

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe's life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist's sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker's Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker's daughter.

Kate Morton has long been a favorite, even amongst my top authors. As I have said before, her novels are masterpieces of narrative fiction.  They are intricate and executed with aplomb. I know an author is highly-prized to me when my reaction to their work is anything less than five-stars because it feels like both a surprise and just intrinsically wrong, somehow. But I have to admit that while The Clockmaker's Daughter contains nearly all the classic Morton hallmarks of a great read, this particular set of interwoven stories didn't resonate with me as much as almost all of her previous novels did. I still fell into her intricate style of storytelling eventually, but it wasn't as complete of an immersion; for once, this is a Morton that could stand to use a bit of editing down. In a six hundred page book, especially one so dependent on the slow reveal of authorial sleight of hand, the underdeveloped aspects of the story stand out in retrospect.

The tale of Birdie and Leonard and Elodie and Tip and all the others connected to the manor at Birchwood is by no means a "bad" book -- Morton isn't even capable of that with her weakest effort to date, 2015's The Lake House -- but the beginning of this lags, one of the POVs is rather dull and underdeveloped each time it's visited, and the addition of the supernatural elements detracted from the novel's other various strongpoints. Dense and slow-moving as is the author's usual style, the plot to The Clockmaker's Daughter takes a long time to engage the reader and even Kate's undeniable and present talents for atmosphere and mystery can't entirely compensate for it.

The cast is a myriad of characters with tangential connections to one another across time and distance. Their slowly revealed relationships make the pages spent interesting for the most part; Morton's quite adept at uncovering the hidden facets of people, this time those related to the mysterious photograph whose discovery incited all the ensuing revelations. Leonard is the exception to the rule; his chapters have emotional resonance but his voice is dull and the events he narrated aren't the most pivotal. Despite his relevance to both plot and other characters, he is a charisma void on the page. The supernatural additions of <spoiler>the 'Night of the Following' (maybe??) and even Birdie herself, charming as she was</spoiler> didn't work and also felt unnecessary. One could have been excised completely and the other could have featured in a more mundane sense. They felt like a rare misfire from an experienced author.

The Clockmaker's Daughter is the author's sixth to be so centered on dual timelines across history and connected to a mysterious house/manor/castle and each is unique gothic tale of secrets, family, and how the past lives on in the present.Though not the complete Morton experience possible and not without a few missteps in its hundreds of pages and several rotating POVs, The Clockmaker's Daughter is still a solidly good novel and with well-rendered characters, an enveloping atmosphere, a intriguing set of mysteries, and creative plotting tying it all together. It's a decent idea of what this author is capable of doing even if it left me craving a reread for the more polished The Distant Hours and The House at Riverton.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I got a copy of this one to review so I'm really glad to see you loved it. I should really be catching up on her backlist but I thought this one sounded fantastic.


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