Kate Morton apparently based the fictional Milderhurst castle on Sissinghurst castle and visiting there you can definitely hear the walls whispering the distant hours..
Story in a nutshell
A letter arrives at the home of Edie Burchill and her mother, postmarked with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope. It was sent many years ago and has only now been found and sent on.
Edie realises from her mother’s strange reaction that this letter holds many a secret. The two have never been close.
Many years ago –
During the war, Edie’s mother was chosen by Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe family.
But years later, at the end of the war, the family experienced tragedy and the young Juniper Blythe was plunged into madness
The decaying castle and its stone walls would hide a wealth of secrets that the sisters would take pains to protect but at what cost?
Place and setting
The picture of open wooden doors leading on to a fountain in a wood immediately and literally drew me in at first. But the description on the back placed me inside the castle described within, even before I had opened a single page:
‘It started with a letter….”
“Inside the decaying castle…”
“The eccentric sisters Blythe”
“..other secrets hidden in the walls of Milderhurst castle..”
“…the distant hours….”
Not much remains of the castle today but the grand tower was apparently the inspiration for the tower which features so prominently in the novel. The surrounding gardens are perhaps the greatest feature of Sissinghurst. in another literary twist, the gardens were actually created by a writer called Vita Sackville West, and her husband. They designed it to be a series of rooms – much like those which Kate Morton brings to life in ‘The Distant Hours’ – each ‘room’ with a different character and a new view on another part of the garden. The gardens and rooms both lend themselves to yet another discovery both at Sissinghurst but also at Milderhurst. Restored by one writer and brought to life once again by another, you will find the links and literary history of this place enchanting.
Sissinghurst castle – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle
Barlow Street, Elephant and Castle where Edie lives
The old Kent Road – where Aunt Rita’s fictional shop Classy Cuts is located
Primrose Hill, Portobello Market – Edie’s mum meets Tom in London here and they spend time in the area.
A book about an author and his family. Three sisters with secrets to share. A girl who works for a publisher’s coming to find the mystery of her mother’s early life. And the story of The Mud Man written in the author in the book but which has a bearing on the story in the present day too.
I love novels about books and authors and this book within a book was so intertwined that it was thrilling on so many levels.
When we find out that the head of the Blythe family was Raymond Bylthe and that he wrote The True History of the Mudman, a section of which starts off the novel, I was intrigued..
It is moonless
It is moonless when the mudman comes
Does the Mud Man bring the storm or does the storm bring the Mudman?
But look , what’s that? – a shape, a mass is climbing up the tower wall.
I wanted to be Edie – a young, bookish woman who works as an editor in a publishing firm, obsessed with Milderhurst Castle and its occupants – those eccentric sisters Blythe who still live there and the history of the author who wrote a famous children’s book.
Secrets of an old decaying castle – were as enchanting as Edie thought they were and her personal thoughts and decisions were the same as I had – what were the distant hours and the secrets held in the castle walls?
I couldn’t wait to enter and walk along its ghostly passageways and touch its decaying walls to see if I could hear the distant hours spill their secrets. I longed to hear the history of how the mud man came about, the owner of the castle who wrote it in his tower and the reasons for the tragedy that occurred within its walls.
The way in which Kate weaves her spell in and out of every page is something I never tire of reading. An old castle and a letter that gets lost but then starts off one girl’s very personal misson is a joy to read. The fact that there are many secrets buried in the past just waiting to be discovered is a thrilling idea and the atmosphere is both chilling and fascinating.
I was entranced by the True History of the Mud Man and jealous that Edie got the chance to meet his family. Imagine finding out the true origen of your facourite childhood book? Wow.
An amazing book, and an amazing story which had me hooked right to the end. I urge you to read some of it at Sissinghurst. Its 670 pages may mean you make several trips 😉 but take your time, enjoy the atmosphere and the sounds and smells of the past because the writing is so vivid, you get to experience it all.