During the long span of its life, Birchwood Manor has been many things, including a school for young ladies, but when Birdie Bell begins the tale of her residency in the Tudor manor house and tells us, "It was long ago; it was yesterday," that one Dickensian line put me firmly in Kate Morton's spell-weaving hands.
By the time I'd finished The Clockmaker's Daughter, I'd added Birchwood Manor to my list of favorite literary houses. Yes, over the centuries it has been many things to many people, but above all, it has been a place of refuge, a place of safety. In the dead of night, a light has been known to shine from an attic dormer, signaling sanctuary to those who need it. I fell in love with Birchwood Manor, every stone, every timber, every flower in its gardens, all the way down to its jetty on the River Thames.
Morton's novel is a slow-moving story told in multiple voices. I'm not complaining about the pace because this is the type of story that must build gradually. Once or twice while reading I did wonder if quite so many voices were needed to advance the plot, but for the most part, I found each character enjoyable-- especially young schoolgirl Ada Lovegrove and Birdie Bell herself.
In many ways, reading The Clockmaker's Daughter is like putting together a large, complicated jigsaw puzzle. The final image is so compelling that you just can't stop reading. As each clue to the mystery is uncovered, it's as though you've found a lost puzzle piece under the box lid or spied one under the sofa cushion and you can't wait to fit it into its proper place.
I have to admit that I didn't really find any great surprises in the plot of this novel, but I didn't care. Being a master storyteller isn't always about coming up with something brand-new. Sometimes it's just about being able to tell a story that fires the reader's imagination so that the person turning the pages can see themselves in each scene of the book and feel the emotions each character feels. If this is the type of book you're in the mood for, there's only one thing to do: pick up a copy of Kate Morton's The Clockmaker's Daughter and meet the people of Birchwood Manor.