Ever since reading “The Forgotten Garden“, I have been a huge fan of Kate Morton’s novels. Since they have been published in 34 languages and have been international bestsellers, it would seem I am not alone.
“The Clockmaker’s Daughter” has several different protagonists as the narrative is set over a vast span of years, from 1862 – 2017. The story jumps back and forth between these different protagonists, yet the reader is constantly aware that they all are in some way linked. The primary linking factor has to be the Berkshire manor house, Birchwood Manor. Situated near the bank of the River Thames, and built very close to one of Britain’s mystical ley lines, the isolated house was described so atmospherically that the author has made the house itself the main character. “It is a strange house, built to be purposely confusing. Staircases that turn at unusual angles, all knees and elbows and uneven treads; floorboards and wall panels with clever concealments.”
“Birchwood Manor was one of those places in which the threads of time slackened and came unstrung.”
In 1862, a wealthy, talented, and charismatic young artist named Edward Radcliffe bought the house. He was drawn to the way the house made him feel. It was a place of refuge, contentment, security and belonging. Although Edward, in his early twenties, was engaged to marry, he immediately fell in love with a girl he met whilst at the theater. He was taken by her beauty and her obvious intelligence. He asked her to be his model – his muse. He took her, along with his sisters and a group of artist friends, the group called the ‘Magenta Brotherhood’, to Birchwood Manor to spend the summer there. Though the summer began in an idyllic way, there would be no happy ending for Edward, or for his muse, Lily Millington aka Birdie Bell. Edward’s fiancée was shot dead – and the Radcliffe family heirloom, the Radcliffe Blue pendant vanished.
“There is a wound that never heals in the heart of an abandoned child.”
Birdie Bell was told her father had traveled to America to find work. She was taken in at the age of seven, and groomed to be a pickpocket and a thief under the name Lily Millington. This was not her true nature though… she was the clockmaker’s daughter and retained memories of a time when she lived with her father. Her mother died with she was very young, so she and her father became very close.
Lucy Radcliffe had run a girl’s boarding school at Birchwood Manor. The school closed in 1901 after one of the students drowned in the nearby river.
In the early 1940s we meet Juliet Wright. Struggling in London during the war, she is a journalist and the mother to three children. When Juliet learns of the death of her husband, AND, that her house has been razed to the ground in the Blitz, she packs up her three children and travels to Berkshire where she rents Birchwood Manor.
In 1980 the Manor was opened to the public.
In 2017, we meet Elodie Winslow who works in London as an archivist. She is engaged to be married, yet the reader senses that her fiancé is NOT the love of her life. One day at work, Elodie discovers an old box containing a fine, bespoke leather satchel, a photograph of a beautiful woman, and an artist’s sketchbook. Within the sketchbook’s pages is a rendering of a house. Elodie immediately feels a strong sense of déjà vu. The house reminds her of a house from a story she heard often as a child…
Also in the present day we come to know a woman who resides in the house. She remembers everything. She “stands outside time“.
“I miss touch. I miss being touched.” “I miss having a face. And a voice. A real voice that everyone can hear. It can be lonely in the liminal space.”
Kate Morton certainly knows how to weave a story. This time, she had her work cut out for her as there were so many threads that had to come together to make the whole. The very many characters and time periods was a bit overwhelming at times, but at the end of the day, “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” was a very satisfying read.
More than just your usual historical fiction, it was a study of aging, regret, of loss, of great love, of parents and children, and of the different incarnations of one old house over many years. A great read for a stormy winter’s day.
I received a digital copy of this novel from Simon & Schuster Canada via NetGalley for review purposes.Favourite quotes from”The Clockmaker’s Daughter”:
“Oh, but it is worst thing about getting old, time. There isn’t enough of it left. There is simply too much to know and too few hours in which to know it.”
“The truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story.”
“People value shiny stones and lucky charms, but they forget that the most powerful talismans of all are the stories that we tell to ourselves and to others.”
Kate Morton was born in South Australia, grew up in the mountains of south-east Queensland and now lives with her family in London and Australia. She has degrees in dramatic art and English literature, and harboured dreams of joining the Royal Shakespeare Company until she realised that it was words she loved more than performing. Kate still feels a pang of longing each time she goes to the theatre and the house lights dim.
Kate Morton’s five previous novels – The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House – have all been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers and international number 1 bestsellers; they are published in 34 languages, across 42 countries.