Monday, April 7, 2008

Julie's Review: The House at Riverton

Summary: This debut page-turner from Australian Morton recounts the crumbling of a prominent British family as seen through the eyes of one of its servants. At 14, Grace Reeves leaves home to work for her mother's former employers at Riverton House. She is the same age as Hannah, the headstrong middle child who visits her uncle, Lord Ashbury, at Riverton House with her siblings Emmeline and David. Fascinated, Grace observes their comings and goings and, as an invisible maid, is privy to the secrets she will spend a lifetime pretending to forget. But when a filmmaker working on a movie about the family contacts a 98-year-old Grace to fact-check particulars, the memories come swirling back. The plot largely revolves around sisters Hannah and Emmeline, who were present when a family friend, the young poet R.S. Hunter, allegedly committed suicide at Riverton. Grace hints throughout the narrative that no one knows the real story, and as she chronicles Hannah's schemes to have her own life and the curdling of younger Emmeline's jealousy, the truth about the poet's death is revealed. Morton triumphs with a riveting plot, a touching but tense love story and a haunting ending. Weekly

Review: The House at Riverton: A Novel is a wonderful book about the past, regrets and secrets. Grace Bradley is a 98 year old woman who's lead a wonderful and adventurous life but it's a life where she's carried a burden of a secret for many of those years. A young filmmaker approaches her about the events of a party where a famous poet killed himself. This visit starts Grace on her journey into the past. It is the past that is most intriguing, not only because of what you know already happens but because of the period in time it takes place in. The 1920s was a period of great change for women and Ms. Morton does a wonderful job of weaving this into the plot.

Part One is a little slow going but not slow enough that you lose interest in where the story is going. It's a lot of background and detailed information but you do need to pay attention because it will be pertinent to the story in later pages. I liked Grace, both the young and older version. Her relationship with her daughter to me wasn't an important plot point if only to introduce her grandson Marcus, whom I wish we would have gotten to know better. I liked that we not only got to know about her past when she was employed by the Hartford's but also what she made of herself later in life.

Hannah is the most complex and interesting character in the book for me. I loved her spirit and her intellect. Hannah was about seizing opportunities that could get her where she wanted to be, but not in a vindictive way. Emmeline was a caricature of a woman during the 20s. For me she was stereotypical and not at all that interesting but she was necessary in many different ways to the plot. There is the one big mystery, what really happened to Robbie Hunter but there are other little mysteries which for me were even more intriguing. They are weaved into the major storyline and only add to it instead of detracting, which can sometimes happen.

I enjoyed how the novel was written, present and then flashback (similar to Water for Elephants). I read another review where they said it was similar to how the movie Titanic was told and I agree. The only problem with this way of writing a novel is that you only understand the story from one point of view and sometimes it might be more effective with a narrator. Although Grace was a great protagonist I would have liked to have heard it from Hannah's POV but seeing that Grace was a "lady's maid" she was privy to things that others would not have been.

I would highly recommend this book if you are a fan of historical fiction and if you like mysteries. This novel has both aspects and they are both done well. The book will be released on 4/22. I look forward to Kate Morton's next novel.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Related - Lisa's Review: The House at Riverton


heather (errantdreams) April 8, 2008 at 1:04 PM  

The idea of seeing a prominent person's world through the eyes of the unnoticed servants is always an enjoyable one, and it sounds like this book does a good job of it!

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