Although there were flaws to this debut novel, what really bowled me away were the clever plot twists. From the very beginning ~ the bad dream that 99-year-old Grace had ~ to the very end ~ the horrifying scene by the lake ~ Ms. Morton teases the reader with titillating glimpses about what exactly happened when a famous WWI poet (based on Wilfred Owen?) supposedly committed suicide.
Like all good storytellers, Kate Morton has taken that last scene, cut it up into bits and sprinkled it throughout the novel. What is even more remarkable is that even though we know from the beginning of this novel that a famous poet was shot on that fateful day in 1924, the ending is still a surprise. It takes a lot of talent to pull that off!
Some have complained that Ms. Morton hits the reader over the head with the sledgehammer of foreshadowing, but I really didn’t experience it that way. I thought the foreshadowing was handled masterfully.
What didn’t work so well was the pacing. Kate Morton has a real talent for description and for setting, but too often the pacing was relentlessly slow and the emotional range too small. For example, Grace’s final realization about who her father actually was unfolded too slowly, and made her seem stupid. OTOH I have to salute Ms. Morton for her funny/tragic use of dialog which shows all-too-clearly that Grace is not nearly as interested in Alfred as Alfred is in her. (Grace’s realization comes amidst Alfred’s fumbling attempts to propose marriage to her.) Even so, I think that more variety in the pacing and a greater emotional range would have made this book even more special.
I could find only one loose thread (in itself quite an accomplishment) and it is this ~ How come Grace’s mother was so certain that Mr. Frederick would marry her when he already had a wife, one son, and another child on the way? That seems willfully naïve on the young woman’s part and maybe explains why she was quite so bitter. The fact that Grace is an unwanted child who was nearly deposited in a foundling hospital makes her attachment to the Hartfords even more poignant, and their loss even more devastating. Five stars.