Title : The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Atria (April 2008)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
About the book:
Within its four walls lay a secret that would last a lifetime.
Summer 1924: On the night 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, onetime housemaid 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 House at Riverton is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.
My Review: Ursula, a film Director writes to Grace requesting her to take a look at the sets of Riverton house, a centuries old house where Grace worked as a maid and where the film is going to be shot. This brings back a lot of memories that Grace had blocked. It was a secret that would have destroyed lives, a secret and a guilt that Grace carried for many years.
When Grace was 14, she was sent to work as a maid at Riverton by her mother. The first half mostly revolves around Grace and her duties as a maid. There is a clear divide between the masters and the working staff where they have a world of their own in the confines of the kitchen. Grace observes the children of the house, Hannah, Emmeline and David from a distance. As a reader we see them through Grace’s eyes too. Grace knows her place and she strives to do her duties well.
I did not like the first half of the book much because I couldn’t relate to or understand Grace and there was nothing much to keep me interested. Hannah, Emmeline and David were mostly on the periphery, so were the other members of the house. I was worried that the entire 500 pages book was going to revolve around Grace alone. But thankfully that was not the case. Things started to get interesting in the third part, which is the second half of the book.
The First World War brought a lot of changes in the household. Hannah and Emmiline’s lives were no longer on the periphery. I could relate to Hannah really well and I could understand her frustrations and the decisions she took because of it, affecting Grace’s and Emmiline’s lives in the process. I was hooked till the end.
I was most disappointed with the character of Grace. As I said before I just couldn’t relate to her and a major decision she took in the second half of the book was the last blow. I wished I was there to talk to her and bring her to her senses. It was obvious I didn’t like her even more after that. And I guessed her secret right from the start but I kind of have a feeling that the author wanted the reader to.
I loved The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and I was really looking forward to this one. Although I’m not sorry I read it, I do wish the first half was cut short a little. The book as a whole flowed very smoothly. In spite of not liking the book as much as The Forgotten Garden, and in spite of my complaints, I think Kate Morton has done a very good job of interweaving history and fiction together and there are many things to like in this book. The House at Riverton is a good Gothic tale fit for a slow summer afternoon.