Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton

Pages: 576
Genre: Adult, Historical/Contemporary
Published by Allen and Unwin
I bought this book

Summer 1924: on the eve of a glittering Society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, one-time house-maid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The Shifting Fog is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.

"The Shifting Fog" is Kate Morton's first novel. Much like her other novel the story had an exciting secret, a symbolic title and beautiful writing. "The Shifting Fog" isn't as brilliant as "The Forgotten Garden" or "The Distant Hours", but fans of the author will still find it plentiful of intrigue and suspense.

I think, out of all of Morton's novels, this one had the most symbolic title. Not only was the image of "shifting fog" created with descriptions of fog entering windows and cigarette smoke, but the main character was the narrator and the memories of the past arrived and disappeared like shifting fog. This was because the character was very old and was losing it; dying of old age. This way of writing was great for the symbolism and the title, but I found it really hard to follow. Like Virginia Woolfe's "Mrs Dalloway" and it's stream-of-conscience style writing I sometimes felt myself a little lost or annoyed that writer had suddenly moved timeframes without proper knowledge. This came unexpectedly to me because Kate's other books typically switch timeframes when switching chapters and are dated. So this was a bit of a challenge. Overall though I thought the idea of "shifting fog" appearing and reappearing was kind of magical and that it was a great way for the writer to bind the different parts of the book together.

I thought the story was like a modern "Romeo and Juliet", because like the famous Shakespearian play the characters had meant to make an escape, but it ended incorrectly. This is another idea that was bound well into other parts of the novel.

The novel also put alot of focus on men who had "changed" after the war. I thought this was something that wasn't brought up alot in historical novels, many of which are about romance or tragedy. Like the film "the edge of love", "The Shifting Fog" really pushed that issue into the readers face and showed them how dangerous people became after the war and showed the perspective, or at least the assumed perspective of a man that went to war. This added grit and made the novel feel more realistic.

Kate Morton's writing is always heavily descriptive and insightful, leaving no ends untied. I think in terms of writing, this novel was probably the most well written. This is because the way it was written seemed like it would be so challenging (especially creating the effect of an old woman's memory). The book was so complete and so well bound together with different ideas and themes being repeated or challenged throughout. There were so many things: the game, men going mad after war, romeo and juliet (love/ loving someone enough to want to die for them), the shifting fog... that fit the category for ideas or themes that were constantly brought up in the novel. And ofcourse Morton's writing does not reveal the true secret in her story until the very end.

In conclusion I think that "The Shifting Fog" is a wonderfully written and extremely interesting novel. I gave it 4/5 stars. I didn't give it five stars because I thought the writing style was a bit confusing and distracting. Someone who is a more avid reader probably wouldn't be bothered by this. I think that the writer used elements that I have seen in films and novels before(aforementioned: Mrs Dalloway, The Edge of Love) that Kate executed in comparison to the creators of those works who missed the mark (in my opinion). I recommend this to anyone who likes books by Kate Morton or who likes historical/contemporary fiction like "water for elephants" that go between different eras. If you don't like overly descriptive novels or heavy tombs this one isn't for you.

-The Forgotten Garden
-The Distant Hours

According to Kate's website she is working on a new novel...

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