REVIEW: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

In brief: The story of an ancient house and those who are bound to it in some way or another.

The good: It’s a Kate Morton book.

The not-so-good: Quite a few characters across the ages which was occasionally hard to keep track of.

Why I chose it: I love Kate Morton’s books, many thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 585

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: England

Rating: 9 out of 10

I always look forward to a new Kate Morton novel. Seeing her name on the cover means I’m guaranteed a read full of history, plot twists and mystery. The Clockmaker’s Daughter will not disappoint her fans and will bring her many new ones. It has all the ingredients you need for a great weekend of reading – many pages (don’t worry, they fly by), a house with a mysterious history and a plot of seemingly unlinked characters that all comes together in the end.

It’s a little difficult to explain the plot of The Clockmaker’s Daughter without spoiling some of the surprises. There is also quite a big cast of characters across the time periods, which can be briefly confusing to work out where they fit. In the present day, Elodie is an archivist. She finds in a forgotten box a number of items that belong to Edward Radcliffe, a Victorian painter. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to her, as the person’s items she is archiving didn’t know him well. But a photograph and sketchbook bring back memories to Elodie and she isn’t sure why. How is the house, Birchwood Manor, linked to her family? She undertakes a journey to find out why. Separately, the story of Edward Radcliffe’s fateful summer is told by an unknown narrator in the first person. How did a man whose star was rising disappear into obscurity? What happened to Birchwood Manor in the years after Edward left? This is revealed from the viewpoints of different characters at momentous points in history.

Overall, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a historical mystery, explored over a century later. But there are additional elements and twists to the mystery which will keep readers enthralled through all 585 pages. There are also a few hints of romance as well as fascinating points of history. The English countryside setting gives the book a hint of the Gothic, particularly at night, but is also infused with light. Morton cleverly uses the weather at Birchwood Manor to echo the feelings of the characters – the wonder of summer in full sunlight and the terror of stormy darkness. Birchwood Manor is not only a setting, but a character in its own right. The house gradually reveals to both the characters and the reader its secrets, but only when it wants to. (Sometimes that is decades after the fact). Birchwood Manor also greatly contributes to the atmosphere of the story (especially when combined with the weather). It comes across as more than just a collection of bricks and wood, but a living, breathing soul. It tends to affect all the characters in some way – from Edward’s first encounter to Elodie’s recognition after seeing the sketch.

As for the characters, the major ones are easy to recognise as they are all so different. Each has a clear reason for their involvement with Birchwood Manor and secrets to tell. Some of the minor characters, although unique, were slightly more difficult to recall. (One example being Tip – he’s a fairly minor character in Elodie’s story, but when the setting moves back to his youth, it took me some time to reconcile the child with the old man). Perhaps the most mysterious and memorable was the unnamed narrator. She has a lot to reveal and she does so slowly, like peeling layers of an onion. I looked forward to her chapters most as they provided ‘clues’ linking everyone together.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a satisfying read that takes the reader through history of ordinary people with extraordinary stories. Definitely one for the holiday reading list.

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