Kate Morton's back with a new historical fiction novel - was it worth the wait?

October 3, 2018

The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars




I always look forward with great joy to the release of a new Kate Morton book and even though my most frequently read genre at the moment is fantasy I still was waiting with bated breath for the release of The Clockmakers daughter last month. Promising the story of a mysterious event in the summer of 1862 as an artist and his friends stay at his house in the country it promised more of Kate's normal and much-enjoyed format of a historical story intertwining with the modern day as we seek to untangle the mysteries of the past. 

This story did initially start out with the normal format with chapters flitting between a mysterious female narrator who we learn is the ghost of someone from the past mixed alongside the story of Elodie Winslow an art archivist in present day who finds a mysterious notebook and photograph during the course of her work that make her think of a place she remembers being told about in childhood. In the first few chapters we learn that something terrible has happened at a place called Birchwood Manor in 1862 and that it led to the loss of a valuable family heirloom. We know that it's all linked to the mysterious voice we are hearing from the past, that of a girl we know as Lily Millington, whose story is one of a childhood lived trying to survive in the harsh world of London when abandoned by her father. So far at about a quarter of the way through I was quite enjoying this book, it was very Kate Morton and I was beginning to hope for learning more about Lily and Elodie in the remaining pages. 

Unfortunately, this is where it all went a bit awry for me. As I began to work my way through the rest of the book I began to lose track of all the different characters and timelines we began to encounter. Overall there are at least 7 in this book along with all their associated side characters that pertain to their story. Each is linked to the house at Birchwood but they all have very different stories to tell and we don't always follow them in chronological order so we jump backward and forwards quite a bit throughout this book. Being a reader of Fantasy I am used to following lots of different people throughout the course of a book but on this occasion, I was left a little disappointed as we don't get resolution or expansion on many of the stories Kate starts in this novel. We flit from person to person and often just as we are engaging with that character and their story we are off somewhere and sometime else. We don't ever really return to the characters we leave we just move on. I can see what she was trying to achieve writing about all the lives that the house had touched throughout the years but it just left me struggling to engage with any characters in particular. 

And as for the ending, I really really did not like it. It was a huge book at nearly 600 pages and we are building throughout the mystery of what happened in the summer of 1862 and how this mysterious voice from the past was killed and when we get there it was a bit of an anti-climax for me. I struggled with it. Reading the last few chapters I was getting quite frustrated because there is a character who holds all the knowledge as to what happened and has from immediately after it happened and knowing what they do I cannot believe they didn't share it. That they essentially left for years the knowledge that they had. It didn't sit well with me as a reader. Also, the speed with which it all wrapped up in the last few chapters was compared to the rest of the book just lightning quick. We leave many stories unresolved and with more questions than answers. 

I can only give this one 3 out of 5 stars this time, which with Kate Morton is highly unusual for me. I wanted to love this book very much but it was too unweildy for me. I am behind not simply having the back and forth between a historical character and present day one in her novels but on this ocassion maybe there was a case of biting off a little more than one could chew.

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