Kate Morton is the master of dual point of view historical fiction novels. Each of her previous novels, from “The House at Riverton” to “The Lake House,” involve a character from the present discovering a secret that forces them to ferret out the truth.
Digging up memories, exploring long forgotten stories and unveiling family secrets is Morton’s forte.
“The Clockmaker’s Daughter,” Morton’s latest release, is all those things, but the mood and atmosphere are vastly different.
The through-line in “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” is our main narrator, Birdie. She is strangely present in all timelines in the book, from the 1800s to the present.
Each of the characters has a connection to the house where Birdie resides, Birchwood Manor.
Birdie is melancholy in her reminiscing. She is stuck in Birchwood Manor as she watches life move on around her. While sharing her personal story, readers discover that almost always has been the case — from the time her father abandoned her to a Fagin-like woman, Mrs. Mack.
Birdie’s goal in life is to go about being unnoticed until an aspiring artist, Edward Julius Radcliffe, becomes obsessed with her and insists that she become his model.
Birdie’s fate becomes tied up in the Radcliffe family and the disappearance of the infamous Radcliffe Blue Diamond.
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One of the other characters, Elodie, discovers Radcliffe’s leather satchel and long-lost sketch book, and Birdie’s story and the location of the Radcliffe Blue slowly rolls through the intertwined lives and timelines of Elodie and Jack (2017 timeline), Juliet and Tip, Elodie’s great-grandmother and great-uncle (1940s timeline); Leonard (1930s timeline) and Birdie and Ada (1800s timeline).
Morton does a fair job of weaving together the multiple timelines into overlapping storylines that tell Birdie’s story and the final resting place of the Radcliffe Blue Diamond.
There certainly are more characters, more timelines, more shifting memories to keep track of in “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” than in Morton’s previous books. It is overwhelming at times keeping track of the connections between the characters and their individual stories.
Because all the storylines and characters are vying for equal time on the pages, not enough time is spent with anyone character to learn their motivations and why they are a part of the story.
All of the characters seem to be affected by the plot and where it needs to go, rather than the characters and their actions driving the plot. As a result, the element of self-discovery that usually occurs in Morton’s books doesn’t happen, and not all of the storylines are wrapped up on the final page.
“The Clockmaker’s Daughter” is decidedly different from Morton’s other novels. The differences are distinct enough that past readers of her work might be disappointed. However, the book might mark a growth in Morton’s writing style that makes it more of a reflection of real life. Not everyone’s story ends perfectly with everyone having an aha moment and discovering or telling the truth. Sometimes, we must just accept what happens with grace and continue to tell the story as it happened and hope others learn from past mistakes and missteps.