I think reading this book was one of the most schizophrenic literary experiences I have ever had. Now that I am writing pretty regularly and studying writing techniques, I read as two people, The Writer and The Reader. When the book is well written and engaging for me, it is really a seamless experience because both The Writer and The Reader are equally pleased. However, there was a big disconnect between my two halves as I read this book, so I spent a lot of time when I wasn't reading it in an intense internal debate with The Writer and The Reader arguing their separate points.
"Distant Hours" is kind of a neo-gothic book with weird old ladies, a crumbling castle, and mysterious circumstances swirling heavily about the place. Every word and action portrayed is pregnant with nuance and hints about the sordid past of the inhabitants. The setting is the 1980s instead of the 1880s.
The Reader sighed and rolled her eyes through all the detail. Paragraphs devoted to describing a late summer meadow, pages following characters through every minute errand of their day. By page 261, almost half way through the book, she could finally see the plot start to come together. The Reader resisted picking up the book even though The Writer wanted to see more.
The Writer admired how Ms. Morton created very distinct characters with unique voices. Even her prose seemed alter depending on which character's point of view she was writing about. The Writer also marveled at how one character would know things the other characters didn't and was impressed that the author was able to thread everything together. Dismissing The Reader's complaints about too much detail, The Writer really liked some of the descriptions, particularly Meredith's account of her father in the railway station and his "dad-face."
Ultimately, The Reader won out and I didn't get too far past page 261. It is the first book in a long time that I didn't finish reading. I could really appreciate the artistry of the author and I learned a lot about characterization. In the end, the book just did not appeal to me. I am sure Ms. Morton has many loyal readers and she won't miss me.