Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kate Morton Fandom

People are creatures of habit and to some extent, at least in terms of entertainment, fandom. This is seen in how movies, television shows, actors, music, bands, etc… are inhaled and spit out by a clamoring public. How else could there be four Pirates of the Caribbean movies (please don’t tell me you actually thought they were good)? The same concept holds for books and their authors. Even if they are not “great” or “avid” readers, everyone seems to have their favorite authors. These are the writers whose books we immediately purchase no matter the subject or genre. Some people are hooked on George R.R. Martin, some on Michael Chabon, others veer towards James Patterson, Danielle Steel (don’t worry, I’m not judging you…at least in this blog), while other still are hooked on writers from our past, like Steinbeck, Austen, Nabokov, Hemingway, or one of the Bronte’s—who may not be writing anymore, but as soon as a new annotated version of Lolita, or illustrated Wuthering Heights is released, watch out, those fans are there. I have both witnessed and participated in this phenomenon. My grandmother was a big Jane Austen fan, and upon her death I found multiple copies of each Austen book (we are talking 4 or 5 copies of just Pride and Prejudice alone), as well as just about any book about Austen, her style, her home life—even a d├ęcor book—that could be imagined. That’s dedication! Now, I have my authors too, working in the book world, how can I not. My book shelves pay homage to writers like Mary Stewart, Max Barry (all but Machine Man, which I read, but couldn’t bring myself to keep), Tana French, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Carol O’Connell. Another author whose titles grace my shelves—and is really the topic of this blog—is Australian novelist Kate Morton.

Kate Morton is one of those novelists who create stories that sweep across time, weaving in and out of eras, switching between narrative voices and views with profound skill. Her four books The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, and the newly released The Secret Keeper, all use the devise of flitting between a modern story and one from the past, by creating an intriguing mystery that leads its modern day heroine to delve into the past in order to unearth the truth. Morton’s pasts are tragic. The characters suffer—for love, for war, for sisterhood, motherhood—for life itself, creating an interesting bond between not only the “mystery-solver”, but also the reader, as both protagonist and reader have the past slowly unfurled for them. It is easy within this type of storytelling to run to the melodramatic, but Morton is adept at running on that knife edge, providing an emotional core to her plot without falling into the stereotype. Kate Morton is a magician with a pen (or, more accurately in this day and age, Word Processor). Her characters are flawed, three-dimensional beings and her settings are richly defined without dragging the reader into a dull description of the landscape that more often leads to skimming, than appreciation. While her mystery plotlines, or rather twists are a touch on the predictable side, it is easy to overlook when confronted with such a rich tapestry of character and place.

In her newest novel, The Secret Keeper, Morton excels at connecting the story of Laurel, a well-respected older actress, with that of a trio of young people living in London during the Blitz. The novel interlaces the lives of Vivian, Dolly and Jimmy, switching between their narratives with that of Laurel as she struggles to unravel the mystery surrounding her mother and the long ago death of a visiting stranger at her home. In a time where I have been struggling to find a book I really love, The Secret Keeper has been a welcome breath of fresh air. Along with another of Morton’s books, The Forgotten Garden, The Secret Keeper has created characters and storylines that have enthralled me. I really can’t do them justice in explaining how Morton’s characters ignite a spark of compassion, an emotional link really, that is difficult to find in other novels. Her books are much more than good stories, they are in a sense, epics; not so much in the sense of something like the Ken Follett books or Gone with the Wind, but in the sense that her creations, these beings developed in her imagination, are really brought to life in a way that leaves vestiges of them in your mind long after you’ve put the book back on the shelf.

So, you readers with supreme author allegiance and a yen for good fiction, here’s my challenge—pick-up a Kate Morton book, read it, enjoy it and then move on to the next. Before you know it you will have a Kate Morton section of your book shelf too.

*Want to meet Kate Morton? Stop in at Warwick’s on Thursday, October 25th at 7:30pm. She will be discussing The Secret Keeper, followed by a book signing. Click here to learn more.

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