Sunday, June 08, 2008

REVIEW: The House at Riverton

Title: The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Protagonist: Grace Reeves
Setting: South of England, 1914-1925
Rating: A-

First Line: Last November I had a nightmare.

At the age of fourteen, Grace Reeves came to the grand but crumbling country house, Riverton, as a servant. An only child, she was mesmerized by the three Hartford siblings David, Hannah and Emmeline. Her position gave her a certain invisibility, and she became privy to the secrets of the three. Growing very close to Hannah, Grace became her lady’s maid when Hannah married a wealthy banker and moved to London in the early 1920s. At Lord Ashbury’s death, Grace moved back to Riverton with Hannah and her husband, and it is there that a young poet supposedly committed suicide in front of Hannah and Emmeline. The sisters never spoke to each other again.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks. Now 98, Grace is in a nursing home, and it is there that a young filmmaker finds her. Ursula is making a movie about the poet’s suicide at Riverton, and she wants to double-check some of the facts. Ursula’s appearance brings a flood of memories back to the old woman, who’s been keeping secrets for over seventy years.

Grace is a memorable character. Her loyalty and innocence color her views of the world and sometimes lead her to make mistakes. All the other characters are really a backdrop to Grace, but they are all vividly drawn. The story moves quickly, seemingly through mists of fog, and the threads all come together in a haunting ending that surprised me.
Morton’s d├ębut novel is a good one. She is an author to watch.

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