The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Have you ever come across an old photograph, say from the last century or earlier, and been haunted by it? I certainly have, in gazing at Victorian era photos in my family or of my family's friends. I've been haunted by a photo of my great-grandmother's sister Margo, beautiful in a white dress with elegant puffed sleeves, her hair up, looking the very picture of a Gibson girl. Who was this woman? What was her life like? If you've ever had a similar experience, The Clockmaker's Daughter is a story sure to engage you.
This is my first foray into the work of Kate Morton. (Yes, I'm late to the shelf!) I was intrigued by the synopsis of the book and its interplay between the present, WWII, and a Victorian era past, and the interplay of art, music and mystery. In all honesty I went in expecting historiographic metafiction, like that in A. S. Byatt's Possession, where in this case an archivist's research into a recently discovered sketchbook and photograph would be the entrée to the Victorian era story of a fictional artist and his muse. I wasn't disappointed in that expectation, though there is a lot more going on in this story than a Elodie, the archivist, being haunted by the mystery of Edward Radcliffe and his "Lily." Morton has developed an almost Dickensian backstory for Lily and the large host of characters in this lengthy novel. The reader gets clued in to one aspect of the story early on when there is the apparent anachronism of a character watching a man use a mobile phone in the wrong century. I won't say more than that, since there would be spoilers. But there is romance, a stolen jewel, murder, a mysterious manor, and a complex web linking the present day (Elodie Winslow and her family) to the past (Edward, Lily, and their families).
At times I felt I was getting lost in the narrative of all these characters, a few of whose presences felt evanescent. In some respects I felt the book should either have been more tightly edited, or should have been longer to clearly resolve the fate of some characters. I also confess that I had to make a character diagram, to keep everyone straight. No harm in that, though!
This is an enjoyable, albeit lengthy, read that should appeal to lovers of historical or literary mysteries.
I received a Digital Review Copy from Atria Books, along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review.
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