I read a comment on Goodreads about this book which went something like… “You know you’ve made it as an author when your name is larger than the title of the book on the cover.” They were speaking about Kate Morton of course, the English-dwelling Aussie and very popular author of a number of epic tomes.
The Clockmaker's Daughter
by Kate Morton
Published by Allen & Unwin
on September 12th 2018
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
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.
A friend and I were talking recently about the prolificness of certain authors, who churn out book after book. Morton doesn’t release a book each year, though her novels are always looooong. I’ve got the attention span of a gnat so that would usually be worrying for someone like me but thankfully Morton’s novels feature dual-timelines, are well paced and addictively plotted.
As is usually the case we readers have several hosts – more than I remember from other work by Morton – but that’s perhaps because we visit a number of timelines. Predominantly we’re with the delightfully-named Elodie in 2017 as well as the subject of the book’s title – the clockmaker’s daughter.
Elodie is beguiled by the woman in the photograph she finds while sifting through old papers but it’s the sketches of a house that send her reeling back in time to bedtime stories told by her (long dead) mother.
Her fascination with the house, the woman in the photograph and artist Edward Radcliffe has her attempting to unpick the past and the secrets of the house, as well as those of her own family history.
We also spend a significant amount of time with the clockmaker’s daughter, who goes by a number of names and her story is a sad one.
The other character, central to this book, is Birchwood Manor itself.
There’s an underlying theme of the mystical or the fantasic here with fables about fairy children crossing between worlds and the protection offered to them by a location which now houses Birchwood Manor. It’s a tale that becomes intermingled with actual events of passing years.
One of the characters in the book (a generation or so before Elodie) is researching Edward Radcliffe and finds reference to the impact Birchwood Manor (and its surrounds) had on the young man (and later on Elodie’s great grandmother and her own mother, to some extent)…
‘The Art of Belonging’, in which the artist exulted about the connection he perceived between human beings and places; between places and art.
‘The land does not forget….
Place is a doorway through which one steps across time.’ p 265
So time and place are strongly linked throughout this book. And obviously as a clockmaker’s daughter, one of our narrators has additional insight into the concept of time.
There was no such thing as the right time, he explained. Time was an idea: it had no end and no beginning; it could not be seen or heard or smelled. It could be measured, sure enough, but no words had been found to explain precisely what it was. p 80
Time no longer binds me; my experience of time is no longer bound. Past, present and future are one. I can slow memories down. I can experience their events again in a flash. p 458
As usual Morton’s work reflects a rich sense of time and place and we’re transported along with the characters as we traverse timelines. She certainly does her research as well and the detail she includes about everything from contemporary London streets (and public transport), the (both) sumptuous and grotty 1800s and the worlds of art and music.
I very much enjoyed this novel. It’s an intricate tale which ultimately (mostly) connects various threads. I wondered in retrospect if we could have done with a few less characters. I’m conscious that many were introduced to give us a sense of the house’s life… as a refuge for those escaping wartime London, a school for young ladies etc but I often found myself a little confused about the many many players.
I was also a tad disappointed at the ending but that’s more because a sadness settled over me; because though there are some happily-ever-afters, not everyone gets one.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and available from 12 September 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.