I've had this book sitting on my shelf for about a year. I don't know why it took me so long to read it, but all I know is that I'm really glad I finally did.
THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON was Kate Morton's debut novel in April of 2008. It's a sweeping, somewhat haunting tale that takes place in England between the first and second world wars. It tells the story of not only Lord Ashbury's family, who lived at Riverton House, but also the staff who made the household run smoothly and effieciently for so many years.
Grace Bradley, who began working as a servant at Riverton in 1914 at the age of 14, is the narrator. She is now in her nineties, living in an assisted living facility facing her own mortality, the others having already gone long before her. She has been approached by a filmmaker who wants to tell the story of the poet, who in 1924 committed suicide beside the lake at Riverton during a lavish society party. According to reports, the only witnesses were sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, grand daughters of the late Lord Ashbury. This is not the first time Grace has been asked to share her experiences, but before now, she's always refused. However, with all the memories that come flooding back as she visits the house all these years later, she feels that it is time to tell the story - the real story of that tragic night at the lake. But in doing so she must also reveal other secrets that she buried decades earlier as part of her loyalty to the family. Some of these secrets will only make the events more tragic, while others will change lives, even today.
One of the things that drew me to this story is the time and location it takes place. The more I read historical fiction, the more I adore it - especially stories of old England and it's traditions. Another reason I think I like this novel so much is that it reminds me of THE THIRTEENTH TALE. It's not as Gothic as Setterfield's book, but has similiar characteristics.
In this novel, Kate Morton has woven a beautiful story of a prominent family with the heartbreak of loss the wars bring, the loneliness those left behind endure, as well as the anguish of those who survived the war, only to continue the battle in their minds once they returned home. The story is so well crafted, it unfolds seamlessly, allowing each revelation to exposes itself naturally yet surprisingly. Add to that the superbly developed characters. There's an honesty about them that creates such a realistic picture of their lives. Through Grace's current life at the nursing home and largely through flashbacks to her time as a Lady's Maid to Hannah, she finally shares her story.
This book was pure pleasure to read and kept my attention through to the last page. Grace was a delightful hostess in the telling of this family's saga and her words so believable, you can't help but have compassion for her.
Kate Morton released her second novel, THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN this past April and I'm looking forward to reading it as well. You can visit her website for more information, including reading group discussion questions for your book club. Ms. Morton is currently working on her next novel, THE DISTANT HOURS, which will be released worldwide in 2010.
Author: Kate Morton
Published: April 2008
Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5 (Highly Recommend)
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