Oh merciful heaven, I am finally done with this book! What a relief! So many times as I was listening to this, I pondered giving up. It was so exasperatingly, unnecessarily slow. The print version is well over 500 pages, and it took me over a month to get through the audio, listening at all my usual times. (The typical audiobook takes me about two weeks.) The length on its own need not be a problem at all—I love a good, long book—but the pacing of The Distant Hours is a mess. Glacial at times, and then spilling masses of information all at once.
So why did I persevere? Well, it was because the story was so good. I had to know what happened! Jenny recently referred to Kate Morton as “the author of my list,” meaning that her books have all the right ingredients, but they just don’t quite deliver. That seems just right to me. In The Distant Hours, there’s a mysterious letter from the past, flashbacks to World War II, an evacuated child living in a castle, twins, family secrets, a presumably jilted woman wandering around in her wedding dress, and a mysterious man of mud. Oh, and there are found journals, old manuscripts, and a literary mystery. So much awesome!
And Morton weaves all of these elements together into a really entertaining story of a young woman trying to learn about the castle where her mother lived during the evacuation and where her favorite childhood book was written. I saw a few of the secrets coming ahead of time, but there were still plenty of surprises, and those surprises hardly ever felt gimmicky. The characters are mostly types, but not in an annoying way—they’re the kinds of literary types that make this into modern Gothic comfort food. I couldn’t give up on this story and these characters, even though I did plenty of yelling at the CD to “get on with it already!”
The problem here is mostly that Morton takes something in the neighborhood of a bajillion words to say things that only require ten words. Now y’all know I’m a fan of lush and leisurely prose, but I wouldn’t call the prose in The Distant Hours particularly lush. It’s mostly the slightly poetic, mostly workmanlike prose I find in a lot of popular fiction. There are some nice turns of phrase and a few clunky metaphors, but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s just that there’s so much of it. Morton repeats information and explains obvious motivations and generally fails to advance the plot at a pleasing clip.
If the story weren’t good, I could easily just dismiss this as a “meh, not for me” book, but I found myself really frustrated at how the good story was getting lost in all the lackluster dressing. I do think I would have been less annoyed if I’d read this in print instead of listening because I could then have skimmed through the boring bits. In fact, I tried to get the print copy from the library so I could skim to the end and see what happened, but it didn’t arrive in time. So I was stuck with audio and had to listen to every. single. word. And now I’m done. Finally.