The Clockmaker’s Daughter…
About the Book:
My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.
In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?
Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.
‘As he looked at her, and she looked at the house, something in the way the leaves of the maple caught the sun and illuminated the woman beneath it made his heart ache and expand, and he realised that he wanted to tell her, too, that by some strange twist it was the very meaninglessness of life that made it all so beautiful and rare and wonderful. That for all its savagery – because of its savagery – war had brightened every colour. That without the darkness one would never notice the stars.’
There’s been a lot of anticipation for The Clockmaker’s Daughter, as there always is for any new novel by Kate Morton. They are far too long and extensive to come out once a year, so it’s usually heading towards the two year mark between reads, ramping up that anticipation even higher. I have read and loved all of Kate’s novels, right since her first was released. I know I’m guaranteed a good read. But The Clockmaker’s Daughter is at a whole new level of storytelling, even for Kate. It is a magnificent novel. There are so many words I could use, but then I would just be drivelling, and no one wants that. Kate’s normal mode of storytelling is to use a dual timeline, one voice set in the past, another in the more modern day. With The Clockmaker’s Daughter, she has surpassed this style of dual timeline in favour of using multiple voices, spread over multiple eras; a collection of stories within a story, with a four hundred year old house and a mystery as the connecting web between each person. It’s ambitious, epic in scope, and one of the best novels I have ever read.
‘There was a single likeness, a small sketch, that he kept inside a gold locket, and which I treasured. Until, that is, we were forced to move into the pair of draughty rooms in the pinched alleyway in a pocket of East London, where the smell of the Thames was always in our noses and the calls of gulls and sailors mingled to form a constant song, and the locket disappeared to the rag-and-bone man. I do not know where the likeness went. It slipped through the cracks of time and went to where the lost things are.’
In terms of historical fiction, Victorian London is a time and place I have always been drawn to. It’s Dickensish of me, I know, but I love the grim atmospheric tones and the social history of that time. Depressing, but anyway, that’s me. Birdie, our mysterious main character who I intend to leave as a mystery for you even in this review, is from this era. She is a poor Victorian orphan child. Kate brings Birdie’s world to life with such vividness, the terrible things that were done to children, the harshness of life for everyone who was less than middle class. And the yearning for more, the thirst for knowledge, the quest for creative freedom; a society on the cusp of so much, which is what I’ve always loved about the era. The juxtaposition of poverty and progress. This world was recreated with such a deft hand, it was truly wonderful.
‘The Thames here had a vastly different character to the wide, muddy tyrant that seethed through London. It was graceful and deft and remarkably light of heart. It skipped over stones and skimmed its banks, water so clear that one could see reeds swaying deep down on her narrow bed. The river here was a she, he’d decided. For all its sunlit transparency, there were certain spots in which it was suddenly unfathomable.’
Kate has a certain way with words though, where with a single turn of phrase, she can turn the ordinary onto its head. I have included quite a number of quotes in this review, because over and over, there are these moments that are so profoundly moving. Images conjured up so vividly, the type of storytelling that is rare and precious.
‘Ada tore open the package to find a small black leather book inside. Between its covers were no words, but instead page after page of pressed flowers: orange hibiscus, mauve queen’s crepe myrtle, purple passion flower, white spider lilies, red powder puffs. All of them, Ada knew, had come from her very own garden, and in an instant she was back in Bombay. She could feel the sultry air on her face, smell the heady fragrance of summer, hear the songs of prayer as the sun set over the ocean.’
As I mentioned above, this novel is told through multiple voices. The character list is extensive, because within each era’s story, their is a full cast of varying people. I adored Elodie, our main character in the present day. The way she lived and breathed history, seeing it in all of her everyday moments. Her career was like my dream come true! But it would be so hard to pick a favourite, to have preferred one era over another, because each was unique, and each contained the soul of a person who had been profoundly influenced by the house and its mystery. The serendipitous moments that stretch across time within this story are delectable. As I got further and further in, each one of these moments gave me goosebumps as they were revealed. Master storyteller does not even come close.
‘They all have a story, the ones to whom I am drawn. Each one is different from those who came before, but there has been something at the heart of each visitor, a loss that ties them together. I have come to understand that loss leaves a hole in a person and that holes like to be filled. It is the natural order. They are always the ones most likely to hear me when I speak…and, every so often, when I get really lucky, one of them answers back.’
Many early reviewers are calling The Clockmaker’s Daughter Kate Morton’s best novel yet. Do I agree with this? Most definitely. Despite its size, nearing 700 pages, I devoured it over a weekend, Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon. It was impossible to put down for any length of time. And while reading it, I was utterly closed to the world, it’s that kind of absorbing.
‘There was a lot that Juliet would have liked to say. It was one of those occasions that came rarely, in which a parent recognised that what she said next would remain with her child forever. She so wanted to be equal to it. She was a writer and yet the right words would not come. Every explanation that she considered and discarded put another beat of silence between the perfect moment for response and the moment that she was now in.’
As to the mystery. It doesn’t disappoint. And the only hint I’m willing to give is to say that The Clockmaker’s Daughter is gothic historical fiction. You draw what conclusions you like from that!
‘And as my name, my life, my history, was buried, I, who had once dreamed of capturing light, found that I had become captured light itself.’
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Clockmaker’s Daughter for review.
About the Author:
KATE MORTON was born in South Australia and grew up in the mountains of south-east Queensland. She has degrees in dramatic art and English literature and lives now with her husband and three young sons in London and Australia. The Shifting Fog, published internationally as The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House have all been number one bestsellers around the world. You can find more information about Kate Morton and her books at katemorton.com.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released 12th September 2018