Why is it that some people are so drawn to one location or choose to set up home in a particular area? What draws us in and pulls us towards places that we may have ever only encountered once in our lives?
Author Kate Morton beautifully uses language to explore similar questions throughout her book The Clock Maker’s Daughter. Published in 2018, the journey Morton weaves throughout history and space digs into these underlying feelings that we as humans hold for a place. She creates a visual path for her reader to walk along, allowing us to create a deep connection with the many characters we meet along the way.
We begin our journey with the modern-day protagonist Elodie Winslow, daughter of a deceased famous cellist, soon to be married to Alastair – a wealthy Londoner – who despite his adulthood is still a mummy’s boy. From the off, we get a sense that this is no fictional over-exaggerated love. Morton holds back on description, and the reader is almost left flat as if there must be something more to this seemingly rushed wedding overseen by an overpowering mother-in-law to be.
The reader is first introduced to the idea that something is about to unfold when Elodie locates an old satchel at work: “Open me, the satchel urged. Look inside.” As Elodie’s inquisitive nature is drawn in by this personified object, the reader learns that its “long journey might just be nearing its end”, thus providing us with the first hint of fate that a greater power is at work here. Inside lies work of the famous Victorian artist Edward Radcliffe, including a sketch of an enchanting house and a beautiful woman.
These two items send Elodie on her travels up the River Thames to Morton’s fictional Birchwood Manor, where the reader hopes she will begin to find some of the answers to our initial questions. Simultaneously we follow the story of a young Victorian woman, left by her father in a house of thieves, as he travels abroad to make a new life and the promise of her joining him. It is here that she learns how to pickpocket and runs into our aforementioned Edward Radcliffe.
The shifts between first and third person narrative gives the reader a strong connection and empathy towards the mysterious ghostly figure who flits in and out between chapters, slowly but surely building her story. As a reader we are not scared of her, merely left with questions in which Morton unwinds over the book’s entirety, by providing more and more characters to add their meaning of place to Birdwood Manor.
Critics have knocked Morton for her over complex plot. Jess Righthand from the Washington Post stated: “Several chapters go by without a mention of our main protagonists, new central characters continue materializing past the halfway mark, at which point it would be nice to simply settle in to see what happens to those we’ve already come to know.” Yet, many may argue that this complexity is positive. Are you not fed up with literature spelling it out for you? If you are looking to push yourself, join this unwinding journey as we, the reader, are kept guessing right until the last pages.
Morton pulls the ending out the bag, twisting all the loose ends off into a nice bow. As stronger connections are formed and mysteries are solved, the reader is left fulfilled, all questions of the history of Birchwood Manor put to rest.
Ultimately, The Clock Maker’s Daughter is a maze of literature, and only at the end will you truly understand which real and fake ghosts haunt Birchwood Manor.
Image courtesy of goodreads.com