I've finished reading this massive tome of a novel-- Kate Morton's 'The Distant Hours,' published in November 2010. This novel has to be one of the most current ones I've reviewed on the blog. I would call it women's fiction/gothic romance.
Characterization-- 5/5: Morton shines here. Each of the Blythe sisters-- Juniper, Saffy, and Percy as well as the love interests and Edie have distinct personalities. The father and author, Raymond Blythe, is a powerful presence in the novel though we never meet him as readers or only in a brief few pages do we "hear" from him. Most of the characters are likeable despite some pretty interesting behavior and quirks. Morton makes them sympathetic.
Plot-- 4/5: This novel twists and turns. Mystery upon mystery rises up and unfolds in the last few chapters of the novel. The prologue is one of the best and scariest I've ever read in a novel. In fact, it was so good that the rest of the novel couldn't possibly compete with it, though it was a strong effort. I admire the intricacy of the plot, but this novel bogged down in the middle like many do. I think it could have been cut 75+ pages. Now, considering it's a 500+ page novel, Morton does a pretty nice job of holding my attention. The sections in the middle just felt very "women's fictionish" to me. And that's fine... just not my cup of tea often. I wanted more Gothic there and got more story of women's struggles. The plot is layered as is the castle, folding in on itself. It's quite a feat.
Atmosphere/spooky elements-- 5/5: I dare you to read the prologue without shivering and going Wow! Wow! Wow! Morton can write! She knocks it out of the park with her very spooky character and story there. It made me want a straight Gothic from her with less of the filler I thought intruded later in the novel. But that's probably just me. If I had to name best prologue ever, this would be it. I know I repeated myself. Believe me, it's that good! Also, there is a castle that provides much of the setting in the novel-- a mouldering castle called Middlehurst with strange passageways, a moat that plays a huge role, and closed rooms. Yes, there's some spooky chills in this one.
Romantic elements-- 4/5: The love stories were all unique and compelling. I will say that I teared up near the end of the novel due to what happened to the hero of the story and at all the misunderstandings. The novel deals in secrets and how one choice or action begets dozens more. My only complaint might be that there is one love story I felt was lacking in the novel. I won't say which one because I don't want to give anything away.
Literary elements-- 5/5: Yes, I envy this novel its literary voice from the prologue to the information about WWI and II and on and on.
Rating: 4.5+ stars
**I recommend this one.