485 pages ~ Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction
My Rating: 4.5/5 ✰✰✰✰✧
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?
“People value shiny stones and lucky charms, but they forget that the most powerful talisman of all are the stories that we tell to ourselves and to others.”
This was my first Kate Morton read and I have absolutely fallen under the spell of her writing. It is magical, lyrical, and heartwrenching. Every single line is packed with passion and emotion. Even her descriptions of the old, lovely objects in this book were so beautifully written that I would randomly burst into tears. There is not a page in this book that I don’t have something underlined or annotated. So much of it touches on both the struggle and the beauty of what it means to be human. Themes of home, time and timelessness, past and present, love and loss seem to blur together in this book in such a moving way that it really puts in under its spell. It has been a long time since a book has captured my imagination and my heart the way that The Clockmaker’s Daughter has, and the lives of these characters will stay with me forever.
Below are a few of my favorite themes from the book:
- Home –
“Love- that’s what she felt, an odd, strong, general love that seemed to flow from everything she saw and heard: the sunlit leaves, the stones of the house, the first that called as they flew overhead. And in its flow, she glimpsed momentarily what religious people must surely feel at church: the sense of being bathed in the light of certainty that comes with being known from the inside out, from belonging somewhere and to someone. It was simple. It was luminous, and beautiful, and true.”
Birdie, Edward, Leonard, Juliette, Lucy, Eliode, and Jack are all searching for their own idea of home. They all find it briefly at Birchwood Manor, but they also learn that home is not necessarily a place but a feeling of being understood. Homes and the feelings they invoke seems to be a passion for Morton and she writes them so well. After finishing the book, I become obsessed with Kelmscott Manor, which was Morton’s inspiration for Birchwood Manor. It was actually the home of Victorian poet and designer, William Morris, and it has a fascinating history.
- The intersection of lives, time, and stories– Although these characters exist years apart, sometimes centuries apart, all of their lives intersect at some point in the story. It’s a really comforting idea that no matter the time and place, we are always connected – learning and finding solace in other people’s stories.
- Victorian Themes– If you have followed me for any length of time you know that I am complete trash for the Victorian Era. I loved the way that Morton made this story blend so fluidly with prominent themes of this Era. I have always been fascinated with the Pre-Raphealites Brotherhood, so I found her fictional “Magenta Brotherhood” to be a really interesting tie-in. There is also subtle nods to Victorian Literature: Oliver Twist, The Little Princess, and The Secret Garden.
- Power of objects –
“She pushed back its leather strap and for the first time in over a century, light swept into the satchel’s dark corners. An onslaught of memories- fragmented, confused- arrived with it.”
The idea that ordinary, everyday objects hold impressions of the past and the people who once owned them is a really prominent theme in the book and one that really resonated with me. It’s a really magical concept to think about the objects we possess becoming imbued with our stories and little pieces of our lives for future generations to uncover.
The only slight drawback for me, (very slight) was that I really wanted more from the ending. Things are alluded to, but not explicitly explained at the end and my greedy little heart just wanted more of these characters and their lives. But this takes absolutely nothing away from the beauty of this story and its writing. If you’re a fan of Historical Fiction (Kristen Hannah, Anthony Doerr, John Boyne in particular) you should definitely check this out. I am really excited to read more from Kate Morton this year!