Over the years, Kate Morton has turned into a must buy for me. She is a bit of a comfort read – family mysteries uncovered, slightly tragic stories with the potential for hope and better in future generations. There’s always a twist and turn, but she still manages to surprise and create interesting characters.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a bit of a break in the norm for her. While in most ways, it is like her previous novels, it is also more focused on a specific place than the others. Her other novels were very much about family, with a daughter making discoveries about her mother, or a granddaughter unraveling ancient family secrets. In comparison, this novel is the story of a house, and Morton explores more time periods, interweaving many more minor characters, who spend various important periods of their lives at that house as they retreat from society.
The two main characters, though, are Elodie Winslow and Birdy. Elodie is the modern day character. She is about to get married, and her life is fine, but there is a certain unnamed discontent. She should be ecstatic about planning her wedding, but she keeps putting it off. When she discovers a picture of a mysterious woman at work (she works in the archives for a company), she is fascinated and starts trying to determine her history, leading to a summer in the 1860s with artists, a mysterious disappearance and a robbed family heirloom.
Birdy, the young woman from the picture, was part of the artists retreat that summer, and she was the muse of the artist and house owner, Edward Radcliffe. There are flashbacks to Birdy’s life, and she is very easy to like, making the reader wonder what really happened that night. There is simply no way the public record of what happened aligns with the Birdy the reader knows.
And that is the one other main difference between this and other Morton novels – this is a ghost story. Morton writes amazing Gothic stories, but she has never ventured into the supernatural part. As a ghost, Birdy is more of an observer rather than someone that is part of the story, but I enjoyed having her voice throughout.
Still, it took me a bit to get into this one, and I think it was because it wasn’t quite what I was expecting from a normal Morton novel given that the flashbacks covered more time periods than normal. Overall, I still enjoyed it, but it did take me a bit longer to get into given the slight subversion of expectations.