Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Clockmaker's Daughter cover

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is another winner for Kate Morton. I’m in awe of her storytelling ability: she expertly weaves together past and present, while holding the book’s secret right until the end.

Her latest novel contains all of the elements we’ve come to expect from her: different timelines; a grand, old house; and, of course, a mystery. Despite the tried-and-tested formula, something about this felt quite different from her other novels, and I think this was thanks to the clockmaker’s daughter herself.

Synopsis:

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?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

Birdie’s near omnipresent knowledge of the events of the novel stands in contrast to how little the other characters know about her. To us readers, she gradually reveals her story – and what a story it is. I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but I thought she was a fantastic character, and one of Morton’s best.

The main criticism of this novel I’ve seen is that there are too many characters to keep track of. My own opinion is divided on this. I didn’t find them confusing, but might have cut a few for the sake of pacing. On the other hand, multiple characters and their criss-crossing stories are a large part of what I love about her novels – they show the connections between people, places and objects that can often only be seen with hindsight.

Present-day character Elodie is an archivist, a job that lends itself perfectly to seeking out these connections. However, it’s really Birchwood Manor itself that holds the story together. As one line says: ‘Place is a doorway through which one steps across time.’ This is a theme that runs through all of Morton’s novels, but never more so than here.

As an aside, it’s great to see Mantle have given The Clockmaker’s Daughter a fresh look. The design is a bit more appealing and accessible than her previous covers, which will hopefully encourage even more readers to pick up a Kate Morton book.

This is another intriguing story from an accomplished writer, and I look forward (as ever) to seeing what she does next.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Mantle for the review copy.

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