Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

I've had this book in my Amazon Wishlist for ages (well, hell, it was published in 2008, but I can't remember when this author first came to my notice), all due to pricing; $10.00 for an unknown-to-me author is not something I routinely pay.

Actually, all her books are in my Wishlist. This one, however, The House at Riverton, suddenly and inexplicably (because her next book isn't due until October of this year) went on sale and I discovered it April 9. Of course, I bought it.


The House at Riverton is a gorgeous debut novel set in England between the wars. It is the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.

 Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they -- and Grace -- know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets -- some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

Originally published to critical acclaim in Australia, already sold in ten countries and a #1 bestseller in England, The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters -- and an ending -- the reader won't soon forget.


Yes indeed, this is not Romance. Far from it. But the whole story fascinated me and I'm not sorry I read it; after all, I knew it wasn't romance before I started reading.

The generational story really appeals to me. I used to read mostly historical fiction and this type of fiction. I adored Susan Howatch (and OMG, I just noticed some of her generational books are in Kindle Unlimited!). I especially like books that take place in the British Isles. (I was born in Canada and compared to Europe, Canada's history is minute.) 

This book wasn't really generational, in that we met only two generations and the older parents did not contribute much to the story. No, the focus was on Grace and the two sisters and how they lived their lives and the secrets they carried to their graves. It tells of the years between 1914, when Grace started her service and 1924, when the above mentioned party provided the climax to this story.

During this time period a woman would turn down love and marriage to remain faithful to her mistress and young men would willingly go to war, full of patriotism, seeing it all as a lark, and be killed and mutilated by the thousands. The effect of this war on these men is at the heart of all the secrets. Lord, they all had secrets!

Grace had a long life and after that climatic party she left service with the Hartford family, got an education, married and had a child. That's what you would see on the surface. But I think her life was always dominated by the memory of her time with the Hartford family, especially Hannah, who she dearly loved.

And it took me awhile, but I suddenly realized they were all so young! All the main characters were so tragically young. Grace went into service when she was 14, so she would have been 24 in 1924. Emmeline was 3 or 4 years younger than Grace, so she'd be barely 20. Hannah and the men were older, I think, but none of them were 30.

Ms Morton writes beautiful prose. Writing of war: 

"... Wars make history seem deceptively simple. They provide clear turning points, easy distinctions: before and after, winner and loser, right and wrong. True history, the past, is not like that. It isn't flat or linear. It has no outline. It is slippery,like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space. And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, and alternative version is proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces."

Or at her mother's funeral:

"It's been an age since we buried her. A wintry day in 1922 when the earth was frozen solid and my shirts blew icy against my stockinged legs, and a figure, a man, stood on the hill, barely recognizable. She took her secrets with her, into the cold, hard earth, but I learned them in the end. I know a lot about secrets; I have made them my life."

I neglected to bookmark some of the best passages, for which I apologize. This book, of any book I've written about, deserves to be praised. Beautiful writing, yet down to earth, accessible, not 'flowery' at all. And although most of the book is 3rd person from Gracie's POV, all the characters have depth; you may not like some of them, but you know what makes them tick and why they do what they do.

I'm dying to read more of Ms Morton's books. Perhaps they'll put another on sale. As I said, they're not Romance, but I just felt the urge to read a 'grown up' book (otherwise known as literary). I love romance, but there is so much of it being written now, with content so bare and spare, and a lot of it just plain bad, that I felt the need for a change.  Also, I'm getting tired of erotica. I wanted something besides skin I could get my teeth into. Heh, heh.

Anyway, this is a damn good book if you're in the mood for stiff upper lips and war and drama and such, all beautifully packaged and tied up with a bow.

Good stuff. 

Oh - a link!


  1. I love books where the prose is poetry. After all, isn't that part of the art of writing?

  2. I think so.

    I wish I'd bookmarked; when a passage speaks to me, I want to share and to hope it speaks to others in the same way. I just don't read with 'reviewing' in mind; I don't suppose I ever will and as you know, my memory is shot all to hell, lol.