Kate Morton’s The Lake House; and why books need loving parents

I’ve written since before I could write. Formless scribbles that held no meaning for anyone other than their tiny author; but for me they contained the secret ingredient that was the very core of all the stories I tirelessly created in my head: love. Once you’ve felt that love for a story of your own, you can instantly spot it, or its lack, within the works of others, and even to this day, after reading pretty much everything I could get my hands on since the age of three, the discovery of a healthy dose of love contained within the pages of a book fills me with a deep gladness at the knowledge that there are other people, all around the world, who understand the depth and intensity of the unique bond between a story and its writer.

These days, to my sorrow, I’m more and more frequently disappointed at the lack of evident parental devotion between authors and the work they release. Granted, even within my lifetime, I’ve seen society change a great deal. The availability of information we enjoy today has made us more knowledgeable in some areas; but sadly it has also created a greedier, more impatient society, in which everything is deemed transient and disposable, and standards are all too frequently sacrificed in the pursuit of fame and money. Talent is no longer subject to any kind of quality control. The result is a disturbing one; the majority of the books, online and otherwise, I’ve read over the last couple of years have left me completely cold. Thin on plot and character development, disproportionately thick with lurid sensationalism; completely devoid of research and unimaginative in theme and vocabulary. Novels conceived as cash cows, prematurely sent into the world charged with making the fortunes of their mothers and fathers, without ever having known what it is to be loved. Despairingly I’ve wondered: am I part of a dying breed? Are there any authors left who share my determination to be the best parents they can possibly be?

Then something always comes along to restore my dilapidated faith in authors’ nature. This time the author was Kate Morton, and the something was her breathtaking recent release, The Lake House. I don’t deny I’m a huge fan of Morton’s. I’ve read all five of her novels and been blown away by each of them in turn. But this latest is like a masterclass in plot and character construction, every twist and turn painstakingly crafted and cleverly disguised beneath layer upon layer of character development and analysis, making the outcome fiendishly difficult to predict, even for a hardened multi-genre reader like myself. It’s such a long time since I found a book so precisely tailored; it’s so rare these days to encounter such devotional precision in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s. But beyond the superb craftsmanship, the most refreshing thing about this novel, for me, was the portrayal of humanity. This book is a powerful illustration of the fact that we are all flawed, driven by motives sometimes beyond our rationality to act the way we do. It shows both the power and the impotence of human love, at the same time as painting a vivid picture of the multicoloured no man’s land between the prescriptive, monotone worlds of “right” and “wrong”. It also gently makes the point that, although society may have changed a great deal over the last century, human beings, at our cores, have altered surprisingly little. In order to achieve these considerable feats, Morton simply uses her flawless observation of human emotions, reactions and motivations. At no point does she feel the need to employ the crass sensationalism increasingly prevalent in modern fiction, and for that I applaud and admire her, unsure as I am that I could employ such forbearance in a work of my own.

The only thing that worried me about this novel was whether the ending was too neat, and whether that fact made it seem a little contrived. But then I realised that perhaps that was simply my own cynicism talking. I write. Therefore a part of me must still believe in happy endings. This book managed to remind me of that, and renew my hope that a happy ending could happen for any of us, at any time. Why the hell not?!

This book also vindicated my belief that there are still some authors who are good parents to their books. Kate Morton, in my opinion, is one of the best mothers around, and has inspired me, as I labour over the sixth draft of my novel Twisting Fate, to continue pouring my love onto its pages. That way I can send my child into the world when, and not before, it’s ready to take flight, safe in the knowledge that I’ve been the best parent I know how to be.