Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

The Clockmaker's DaughterAbout the Book

My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

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 a 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?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (600 pp.)    Publisher: Pan Macmillan/Mantle
Published: 20th September 2018   Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Clockmaker’s Daughter switches frequently between different time periods and points of view, some of the latter being introduced for the first time quite a long way into the book.  The first person narrator referred to in the book description as ‘a woman who stands outside time’ may require the willing suspension of disbelief by some readers; others will find it intriguing and inventive.  I enjoyed this narrator’s mischievous nature whilst at the same time feeling an empathy with her evident underlying sadness.

In the depiction of the group of friends who arrive at Birchwood Manor in 1862, the author conveys the insular atmosphere of an artistic community, full of petty rivalries and jealousies.  (I was reminded of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery, Five Little Pigs, and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn novel, Artists in Crime.)  There’s a sense of simmering discontent that may boil over at any moment.  When it does, it’s in a quite unexpected way and with far-reaching consequences .

Appropriately given its title, the book makes frequent reference to the passing of time. ‘There was no going back. Time only moved in one direction.  And it didn’t stop.  It never stopped moving, not even to let a person think.  The only way back was in one’s memories.’  Timing devices have significance as well.  At one point, a character remarks, ‘There was no clock inside the studio.  There was no time.’  Another character recalls a grandfather clock whose ‘tick-tock’ sounded louder at night, ‘counting down the minutes, though to what he was never sure; there never seemed to be an end’.

The book also explores the idea of a sense of place, epitomized by Birchwood Manor which sits at the centre of a web connecting it to the different characters to varying degrees.  The melding of past and present is another recurrent theme.   For example, the book refers to a character entering the house and feeling that they were ‘stepping back in time’.  At another point, Birchwood Manor is described as being like ‘a Sleeping Beauty house’ as if just waiting for someone to reawaken it.

From my point of view, The Clockmaker’s Daughter marks a return to form for Kate Morton as I really liked The Secret Keeper but didn’t get on at all with The Distant Hours (which is still, I’m afraid, sitting unfinished on my bookshelf).  Although the author has delivered another chunky book and the multiple timelines and points of view demand a good deal of concentration from the reader (a few more reminders of the time period in the chapter headings would have helped), it has a great sense of atmosphere and the unfolding of the mystery is skillfully intertwined with the stories of the various characters.   Edward Radcliffe’s sister, Lucy, observes at one point, ‘a story is not a single idea; it is thousands of ideas, all working together in concert’.  There are certainly a lot of different ideas and narrative strands in The Clockmaker’s Daughter but, on the whole, I believe they do all work together in concert to create a satisfying read (perfect for autumn/winter nights, by the way).

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Pan Macmillan/Mantle, and NetGalley.

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In three words: Atmospheric, haunting, mystery

Try something similar…Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks (read my review here)

Kate MortonAbout the Author

Kate Morton was born in South Australia, grew up in the mountains of south-east Queensland and now lives with her family in London and Australia. She has degrees in dramatic art and English literature, and harboured dreams of joining the Royal Shakespeare Company until she realised that it was words she loved more than performing. Kate still feels a pang of longing each time she goes to the theatre and the house lights dim.

“I fell deeply in love with books as a child and believe that reading is freedom; that to read is to live a thousand lives in one; that fiction is a magical conversation between two people – you and me – in which our minds meet across time and space. I love books that conjure a world around me, bringing their characters and settings to life, so that the real world disappears and all that matters, from beginning to end, is turning one more page.”

Kate Morton’s five previous novels – The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House – have all been New York Times bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers and international number 1 bestsellers; they are published in 34 languages, across 42 countries.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s a bit bigger than the books I typically read as well but I make an exception for Kate Morton. If you fancy some more by the same author, I can recommend The Secret Keeper.


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