The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
Publisher: Atria Books
Publishing: October 9
Genre: historical, contemporary
“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?
It has taken me forever to write this review (at the time of writing this, I’ve since read ten novels), in large part because it’s now my favorite Morton (knocking The House at Riverton to second) and because I have difficulty putting favorite novels by long-standing favorite authors into reviewing words. Morton’s novels are like Rowling’s Harry Potter to me. Rowling was there for my childhood and teen years, and my love affair with the series continues on; Morton was there in my young and early adulthood, showing me that romantic Gothic fiction is still around and accessible and full of wonder, like being with an old friend and picking up where things left off. I adore Morton’s work.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is not about clocks, or about a daughter assisting her father making clocks, or anything that title and cover image may suggest. It is very much about time, family secrets, loss, and everything that can happen within one beautiful manor house. It’s classic Morton, and this time — thanks to the clockmaker’s daughter’s narrative voice — the Birchwood Manor is a character in itself. Birchwood links all of the narrative threads together, a touchstone within this gorgeous novel that you love to come back home to.
First there’s Elodie. She’s a quiet sort, intelligent, observant, a bit of a wallflower, and my kindred spirit. I fell for her instantly. She’s an archivist in London for a private art collection. When a package is discovered in a back room containing a leather satchel with a photograph of a beautiful woman and a sketchbook, Elodie sets out to link the two together and uncover the mystery of why the package was there, why it wasn’t archived, and how these were related to the man whose collection she works for.
But this isn’t her story. It’s Birdie’s. It’s Juliet’s. It’s Edward’s. It’s Ada’s. It’s Leonard’s and Tip’s and Lucy’s. This is probably the most perspectives Morton’s had in a novel, and at first it’s a little jarring, I’ll admit — but hang on. Birdie and Birchwood Manor will bring you back, and soon you’ll be making the surprisingly and thrilling connections that all these people have with one another and with Birchwood Manor.
Birchwood began as a magical summer home, later bequeathed to Edward and his friends. After a terrible accident and misunderstanding, it falls to ruin. Edward’s sister Lucy spruces up the manor and turns it into a girl’s school, where Ada attends and learns all about geology and archaeology and independence with Lucy. But war hits, and Birchwood is left once more. Leonard, seeking solace, finds it to be a place of refuge, and Juliet a lovely home for her children, including Tip, in the country.
But most of all, it’s the way Birdie connects these people to this manor, and her tragedy. It broke my heart, gently, softly, the only way Morton can and does every time. I had Secret Garden and Little Princess vibes throughout the novel, and Tip’s curiosity reminded me so much of Uncle Desmond in “About Time.” I loved this book to pieces. I don’t know what I was expecting — definitely something more with clocks! — but this was infinitely better.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a quietly vibrant novel about love, murder, mystery, loss, art, and the constant flowing river of time. Fans of Morton’s earlier work will not be disappointed.
Thank you, Atria Books, for providing the galley on Edelweiss for review!