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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton
By Kate Morton
Completed January 6, 2008

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton swept me away into a tale of love, murder, war and revenge. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to read this book, partly because of its length (470 pages), but also because I feared it would read like romantic fiction. I was wrong. The story encircles you and pulls you in, leaving you satisfied and moved by this provocative story.

Grace was only fourteen years old when she accepted a position at Riverton, the wealthy estate in her English village. There, Grace witnessed (and often participated) in remarkable events that struck three generations of the Hartford family. Grace became attached to the three children, but especially Hannah, who she eventually served as a “lady’s maid” well into adulthood.

Morton used Gothic literary tropes throughout this novel, which accelerated the story at nice intervals. In the modern day, we meet Grace as a 98-year old nursing home resident who was determined to record her story, including Riverton’s biggest secrets, for her grandson. As she recorded her tale, we experienced Grace’s flashbacks as she relived her life. There were two big mysteries for the reader: Who was Grace’s father, and what happened to Robbie Hunter, a poet who killed himself at Riverton in 1924? Morton offered the reader clues along the way. To me, there were no big surprises once everything was revealed, but I thought the twists were appropriate and advanced the plot at a nice pace. Certainly, this book was a real page-turner.

While the Gothic novel is by no means new, what I think is poignant about The House at Riverton was the theme of “shell shock” – the post-traumatic stress syndrome that affected World War I veterans. Several of the male characters who survived “The Great War” came home skittish, depressed, claustrophobic and restless. Morton’s accounts of these men (from all social classes) made the reader “see” what happened to them. I couldn’t help but think how this continues today with our Gulf War veterans. In my opinion, the military is excellent at training soldiers for war but may not offer the help they need when it’s time to return to civilian life. I can’t imagine what this transition must be like, and after reading this book, I appreciated their predicament even more.

I also enjoyed the “upstairs and downstairs” views of English society during the Edwardian era. Downstairs, the servants fret about food, what’s happening to the family upstairs, prepared for parties, looked after each other, and formed bonds built on honor and loyalty to the family they were serving. Upstairs, I sensed a lot of boredom and unrest with the younger generation while the older one desperately held on to societal traditions that were slipping away.

By far, Grace is one of the most interesting narrators I have read in a long time. She emerges from her Riverton experiences strong and determined, and turned her life into something she wanted. She’s the type of woman who always looked forward but never forgot her past. If you enjoy Gothic literary novels, such as Rebecca or The Thirteenth Tale, then I think you will like Grace and her story. ( )


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)
Nice Revew, Jill. I loved this one too. Let's hope that the rest of 2008 measures up. :)

Jan. 8th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
Joy said...
Oh yay! Another positive review of this new book. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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