The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
Born in South Australia and currently based in the UK, Kate Morton is an internationally-renowned author of bestselling novels including The Lake House, The Forgotten Garden, and Distant Hours. Her latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, is yet another literary masterpiece.
In the summer of 1862, the young artist Edward Radcliffe heads to Birchwood Manor on the banks of the upper reach of the Thames with his group of friends. They hope to spend the whole summer indulging in the perennial delights of painting, poetry, and picnics. Their plans come to an abrupt halt when somebody is shot in the manor, and one of Radcliffe’s friends, Lily Millington, goes missing. Overwhelmed with loss, Radcliffe dies alone, drowning off a coast in Portugal.
In the summer of 2017, Elodie Winslow is working in the archives of Stratton, Caldwell & Co. in London. In the archive centre, she digs up a box with a satchel containing a black journal, a brass pen box, and a leather document holder. While busily preparing for her wedding to her fiancé Alistair with her best friend Pippa, Elodie sets on a relentless search for the mysterious lives behind the satchel. She finds out that it belonged to Edward Radcliffe, and finds a mysterious picture of a woman dressed in white. Questions abound. What did this woman have to do with the artist Radcliffe? What really happened in that summer of 1862? Elodie receives help from Pippa, a prominent figure in the art world, as well as her great uncle Tip, who seems to know a lot about the mysterious daughter of a clockmaker, Birdie Bell, whose silvery voice echoes throughout the entire novel.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of time and timelessness. The story is divided into four parts and oscillates between past and present tense, which demonstrates the interconnectedness of human beings within the passage of time. It delves into the haunting and palimpsestic quality of houses and the challenges of archiving and curation. So much happens within houses that they seem to take lives of their own. Amongst the characters that abound in the novel are artists, schoolmistresses, and archivists: people concerned with, or even obsessed about, the past and the future, and how they relate to each other. Memory becomes the sequel to loss. Deeply concerned with the past, the novel places a delicate and refined emphasis on history. Morton mentions the prevalence of spiritualism in the nineteenth century. She also makes a historical reference to the priest holes: special hideouts built by the Jesuit layman Saint Nicholas Owen to shelter Catholic priests who were persecuted during the reign of Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century.
No doubt the result of painstaking research, reflection, and creative talent, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is the equivalent of a treasured pre-Raphaelite painting. I highly recommend it to avid readers of novels, especially historical fiction. Quietly brimming with warm nostalgia, it would be perfect to read under the sunlit trees in the late spring and upcoming summer months.
Reviewer: Azariah Alfante
Allen & Unwin, RRP $36.99