Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Distant Hours

Mrs Pao and I were chatting on the way home from the Oyster Festival about a book we had both read when she turned to Pao and said 'you can tell we were literature students can't you' (for that is indeed where Mrs Pao and I  met, at uni, 1995/6, in a lecture theatre - can't remember the name of the book we were studying though - there were sooo many - and she wasn't Mrs Pao then either) and I realised how much I missed talking about books.  Especially now I have the opportunity to read more often at the moment.

I did start a reading group 10 months ago which is something I had wanted to do for absolutely ages.  I didn't, at the time, have the confidence to do it on my own so CCV came in on it with me and we launched it one evening with a rather nice meal that took us all day to prepare, but which was worth it.  There are eight of us, meeting every six weeks and taking it in turns to host the evening where much eating, drinking, chatting and merriment takes place.  As  a social group it works well, we are all different and all bring something of our own to the mix but a book group it isn't. 

Once we watched a DVD but forgot to discuss it at the next meeting.  Another time we played a book game which was interesting, fun and got our creative juices going except we kept forgetting what it was we were supposed to be doing, which might have been something to do with the wine.  And, we have plans to go to an exhibition over the summer.  On the occasions we do read a book we manage to discuss it for, oooh, all of ten minutes.  So, I think I need to go and join a proper book group, one that doesn't clash with the one I'm already in obviously.

In the meantime I might write about a book or two  I've read here to get it out of my system.  Lucky you! Mrs Pao does it on her blog and I have noticed quite a few of the blogs I subscribe to also write book recommendations as well as all the foodie and photography stuff.  I have started a list of books I would like to read just from reading about them on other blogs. 

Not that I would go so far as to recommend a book because what I will see in a book may well be different to what someone else will see in the very same book, which is, of course,  actually  part of the joy of talking about a book.  But if I let you know about books I've read whether I've liked them or not, and I have read some baaad books,  then the choice is yours as to if you read them or not.  But if you do you could always let me know what you thought about them. If you wanted to.  It would be a sort of virtual book club conversation - sort of.  Up to you.

So, I  will start with the last book I read which was The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  I'd had this book for quite a while before reading it because I felt I had been coerced into buying it by an over enthusiastic, pushy sales assistant in Maidstone Waterstones.  I was annoyed with myself for allowing that to happen so I punished the book by refusing to read it.  However, I had to relent when I realised I only had three books left in my 'to read' pile and as I wanted an easy read this looked like it would have to be it.

Kate Morton said, in the back (p672) , that  her 'favourite thing to hear from readers is 'I couldn't put it down but I didn't want it to end''.  This was exactly how I felt about this book.  I started by devouring it but as I got near the end and the realisation hit that my journey through the pages with the friends I had just met and cared for would soon be over I started to read very slowly in order to prolong the inevitable.

The story of the Sisters Blythe from their childhood at the beginning of the twentieth century to 1992, the year they meet Edie Birchill, is told both through the eyes of Edie and the third person narrative which fills in the gaps Edie isn't party to. Edie gets lost in Kent on her way back to London and by accident finds herself at Milderhurst Castle where her mother was evacuated during the war.  Edie hadn't known about her mother's evacuation until a few days before when a previously lost fifty year old letter was delivered to her mother.  Edie's mother, a distant woman, refuses to discuss her emotional response to the letter or any other details of her evacuation to Milderhurst.  So, when Edie, fetches up outside the very place, she sets about unravelling what she sees as a mystery concerning her mothers past.  And so the story of the three sisters and Edie's mother begins.  It is a story that sheds a light on a very different way of life, in a different age with different expectations. It follows  the impact of events that occurred fifty years ago but which still reverberate in the present day for people who were unaware of their happening.

To say it was an easy read was not a criticism.  Perhaps I should say it was an effortless read.  The chapters leap between 1992 and the war years and give the perspectives of several different characters which is not an easy thing to do.  Kate Morton ranks alongside Margaret Attwood in her ability to do this without causing the reader the unnecessary rifling backwards and forwards through pages to see who is the narrator and what era they are in.  I thought it was good story, well told.  I found the plot intriguing and felt involved with the characters.  I think I will definitely read another Kate Morton book in the hope it is as good as this one.

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