‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Kate Morton

Not my usual genre

but I love and respect this book. It deserves the status of a 21st century classic.  Narrated by numerous voices from Birdie Bell to Elodie Winslow, I was immersed in a mystery with twists and ghostly turns, fine art and emotional lives of several families over two centuries of turmoil and heartbreak.

The fluid nature of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is similar

to the ebb and flow of a river.  In this case the Thames, and the reader should move with the tide, not fight against it.  Accept each individual character and enjoy their allotted time in the book, otherwise an undercurrent could pull you down into reader malaise which may cause you to miss the best bits.

Human emotions are the core of this novel

but some criticism seems to be there are too many characters.  Why?  The classics and modern historical fiction have loads of characters.  I think Kate Morton truly loved her cast of players and couldn’t bear to trim them to fit a mere trifle like a word limit.  Each person has a purpose!

Perhaps the 21st century reader has difficulty due to

a shorter attention span?
less retentive memory?
poorer concentration?
reading skills only suitable for glancing at a small screen?
Tick all of the above
(Sorry, just had to lecture…)

My friends know that rarely, if ever, do I reread a book

The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton 03

because once read, never forgotten – well, almost – but ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is the first book in years which I have felt compelled to reread.  It touched on many threads in my own familial life and exposed feelings and understandings.  In one chapter, I had to stop because the emotion became too much as I recalled several elements of my own family’s journey through life and death.  My grandfather was an early 20th century artist, talented and struggling to make a living, perhaps similar to Edward Radcliffe.

Triggered by outstanding writing, we pour our own sentiments into a story

and Kate Morton succeeded in cracking my heart just enough to make the sadness bearable.  Then the atmosphere lightens, a scene change like a stroll in springtime.

Synopsis from publishers Simon and Schuster

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Clockmakers-Daughter/Kate-Morton/9781451649413

“In the depths of a 19th-century winter, a little girl is abandoned on the streets of Victorian London.  She grows up to become in turn a thief, an artist’s muse, and a lover.  In the summer of 1862, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she travels with a group of artists to a beautiful house on a bend of the Upper Thames.  Tensions simmer and one hot afternoon a gunshot rings out.  A woman is killed, another disappears, and the truth of what happened slips through the cracks of time.  It is not until over a century later, when another young woman is drawn to Birchwood Manor, that its secrets are finally revealed.”

Oh, secrets revealed

but there are a couple of unanswered questions.  This is where a keen reader sees the clever intertextuality and works it out for themselves from the vignettes Kate Morton has polished and refined for us.   Even down to the defining chapter headings—or didn’t anyone notice that.  This story is a puzzle, it appeared to be disparate people until I followed the signposts, keeping observations tucked away for future reference.  Gradually events join up, different eras are linked, a genealogical timeline exposed.

Here’s my incomplete list of characters…

Elodie Winslow, modern archivist
Tip, her great-uncle
Handmade leather satchel
Birdie Bell, young pickpocket
Lily Millington, pickpocket and artist’s muse
Mrs Mack, purveyor of crime
Martin Mack, thug
Pale Joe, sickly boy
Birchwood Manor
Fairy folk tale
Edward Radcliffe, artist and portrait painter
Frances Brown, his fiancée
Lucy Radcliffe, his sister
Thurston Holmes, unpleasant friend
Ada Lovegrove, sad student
Juliet, newspaper columnist
Jack, ex-policeman
Radcliffe Blue diamond

There are beautiful paragraphs

which I would love to reproduce, although being taken out of context would ruin the impact.  There’s grimy poverty stricken London, the joy of wildflowers, the thunder in a storm, a fascinating country manor, the love between Edward Radcliffe and Lily Millington, the dubious behaviour of their friends and family culminating in a shocking moment followed by the ultimate conclusion.

I won’t divulge crucial plot points and

my recommendation is to read ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ without preconceived notions.  Unlike reviewer Caroline E. Tew, Crimson Staff Writer of The Harvard Crimson, I did not expect a resolution that is literal, practical or easy to digest.  Have a pinch of romance in your soul.

There’s a 12-Minute PDF Blog summary out there which should have a Spoiler Alert.  It reports inaccurately on a clue, and pretty much gives the game away.  I am glad I did NOT read it prior to reading the novel.  It exposes the plot in a clinical fashion, ruining the atmosphere and skimming across Kate Morton’s beautiful prose and depth of feeling.

On the other hand

an exceptionally good review of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Jo Casebourne of The Reading Project will give you well-rounded insights into the story and characters in chronological order from 1860s to present day.

Naturally author Kate Morton’s website is an absolute must
https://www.katemorton.com/behind-the-clockmakers-daughter/

I have reproduced a chapter vignette (below) to show a scene of top-notch character writing.  But first, let me ask you to ponder this key question, answerable after reading the book.  Out of the four woman, mother, sister, lover, fiancée, who do you think loved Edward Radcliffe the most?

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Chapter Sixteen ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ Extract

Leonard Gilbert, ex-soldier, researching the Radcliffe family.
Lucy Radcliffe, now elderly yet still sharp.

“The cottage was pleasantly dark inside, and it took a moment for his gaze to arrive at Lucy Radcliffe in the midst of all her treasures.  She had been expecting him only a minute before, but clearly had more important things to do than sit in readiness.  She was engrossed in her reading, posed as still as marble in a mustard-coloured armchair, a tiny figure in profile to him, a journal in her hand, her back curved as she peered through a magnifying glass at the folded paper.  A lamp was positioned on a small half-moon table beside her and the light it cast was yellow and diffuse.  Underneath it, a teapot sat beside two cups.
‘Miss Radcliffe,’ he said.
‘Whatever do you think, Mr Gilbert?’  She did not look up from her journal.  ‘It appears that the universe is expanding.’
‘Is it?’ Leonard took off his hat.  He couldn’t see a hook on which to hang it, so he held it in two hands before him.”

Kate Morton 09

Five Star Ratingstar twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03star twinkle twinkle 03