Dig­ging into the past to un­earth real mys­ter­ies

A re­ward­ing read if you are will­ing to nav­i­gate a labyrinth path

Cape Times - - LIFESTYLE - THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGH­TER Kate Mor­ton Loot.co.za (R PUB­LISHER Post Wash­ing­ton

EV­ERY­ONE likes a good ghost story and, at its best, Kate Mor­ton’s The Clockmaker’s Daugh­ter is ex­actly that.

The au­thor has as­sem­bled all the fa­mil­iar trap­pings: The tit­u­lar char­ac­ter’s death un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances, a de­light­fully haunted house and, of course, the present-day saps who de­cide they’d bet­ter get to the bot­tom of it all.

Mor­ton cer­tainly weaves an elab­o­rate ta­pes­try – but that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a good thing as the story de­volves into an in­creas­ingly te­dious, con­vo­luted af­fair.

She does, at least, get off to a strong start with the in­tro­duc­tion of Elodie, our present-day hero­ine. An ar­chiv­ist and the daugh­ter of a fa­mous, de­ceased cel­list, Elodie is en­gaged to Alas­tair, a con­trol­ling mama’s boy who is easy to dis­like.

At work one day, Elodie dis­cov­ers an old leather satchel that con­tains the sketch­book of Vic­to­rian painter Ed­ward Rad­cliffe. One sketch of a house re­minds her of a story her mother told her as a girl. An­other fea­tures a beau­ti­ful, name­less young woman wear­ing a famed pen­dant called the Rad­cliffe Blue.

This sends Elodie on a jour­ney to Birch­wood Manor, an es­tate on the Up­per Thames, where we hope she will un­cover a mys­tery about her mother – as well as the story of the name­less girl – in time to ex­tri­cate her­self from what prom­ises to be an aw­ful mar­riage.

At the same time, we fol­low the first-per­son story of our ghost, a young girl in mid-19th-cen­tury Lon­don, whose fa­ther has sent her to live in a house of petty thieves while he makes a life for the two of them in Amer­ica. There, she mas­ters the art of pick­pock­et­ing and meets – and falls for – Ed­ward Rad­cliffe.

But as soon as we feel an­chored in these par­al­lel nar­ra­tives, Mor­ton di­verts our at­ten­tion to an ex­ces­sive cast of char­ac­ters who have fre­quented Birch­wood Manor over the past cen­tury.

Sev­eral chap­ters go by with­out a men­tion of our main pro­tag­o­nists, and new cen­tral char­ac­ters con­tinue ma­te­ri­al­is­ing past the halfway mark, at which point it would be nice to sim­ply set­tle in to see what hap­pens to those we’ve al­ready come to know.

Tak­ing on good faith that the con­clu­sion will ren­der the ex­er­cise worth­while, Mor­ton doesn’t dis­ap­point. She de­liv­ers a sat­is­fy­ing, emo­tional end­ing that re­mark­ably syn­the­sises most char­ac­ters and facets of the story.

If read­ers are will­ing to nav­i­gate its labyrinthine path, they may ul­ti­mately find The Clockmaker’s Daugh­ter re­ward­ing.

Still, one couldn’t blame them for giv­ing up on the ghost. |

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