The Clockmaker's Daughter: A Novel

Image of The Clockmaker's Daughter: A Novel
Release Date: 
October 8, 2018
Atria Books
Reviewed by: 

“Kudos to Kate Morton for spinning such a tale.”

Kate Morton has mastered the art of the multi-layered literary novel—secrets upon secrets, always centering on a house or a place and how it guides or twists the human character.

In her new book, the house is the centerpiece, where 150 years ago a visionary artist brought all his friends for a hedonistic weekend that ended in violent death. The effects of that weekend reverberate into the present—as well as through the ether—drawing later-generation characters into the mystery and changing their lives.

Thankfully, the reader doesn’t have to wait until the last page to understand what happened. The story unfolds slowly but steadily, braiding together husbands, wives, lovers, siblings, strangers, and offspring, all in their own way drawn to Birchwood Manor in rural England.

To round things out and tie them all together, there is a ghost. Who, as it happens, is the primary narrator. However, given the time span of the story, it must be told through various personalities, whose voices flow in the context of the ghost’s memories.

The writing is superb, drawing you in, immersing you in itself as well as the images and characters it portrays, preventing impatience to find out what happened. That is, the impatience factor depends on your capacity for stories—how many you can process before starting to lose track and wanting to advance to the end. This novel necessitates a lot of stories to cover the decades of mystery, though each is crucial to the whole and beautifully done.

A big question left open until deep into the narrative: Who is the clockmaker’s daughter? About the time that becomes evident, you realize the story is less about the myriad characters than it is about the house, and how spirits can be entrapped within. Nothing about this is spooky or suggestive of “paranormal” or “horror” genres. Rather, the emotional intensity of the house’s history makes it seem reasonable that a place can become impregnated by human essence.

This book is one you need to set up for and plan to take a long, leisurely time reading. The reward, if you’ve been paying attention, is a quietly blooming awareness of how the mystery must resolve. The clues finally line up and you keep reading at a faster pace to find out if you’re right. If you are right, the novel pays back in emotional satisfaction. If you’re not, it still pays back in intellectual appreciation.

Kudos to Kate Morton for spinning such a tale.