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As a girl of thirteen, Grace Reeves went into service at Riverton, a grand house in the heart of the Essex countryside, during the last days of Edwardian Britain. By 1999, when the story in the book begins, she is a frail but still mentally sharp woman of 98 in a nursing home. 75 years earlier there was a tragedy at the house, when the young poet R.S. Hunter apparently shot himself in circumstances which have remained a tragedy ever since. Now, on the eve of the new millennium, a film is being made on the subject. As everyone else who was there at the time has long since died, her memories will be invaluable. From the film director''s office, we go back to when young Grace was working at Riverton for the Hartford family. Although fraternisation between the classes is frowned upon, she soon establishes a connection with young siblings David, Hannah and Emmeline. One Christmas David brings home a schoolfriend, Robbie Hunter, to whom one of the sisters takes something of a shine while the other remains indifferent. Then everyone''s existence is shattered by the war. David is one of many who joins the call to arms and never returns. By the early 1920s Hannah is living in London, unhappily married to Teddy, a businessman with whom she has little in common. Emmeline, four years younger, is one of the Bright Young Things, just living for cocktails, the Charleston, parties lasting until dawn, and participation in dodgy films, much to Hannah''s horror. Shell-shocked Robbie, a survivor from the trenches, now a successful if deeply troubled poet, tracks Hannah down to return a book David had lent him. One thing leads to another and they begin an affair. Emmeline becomes part of the triangle in a way, while Teddy is apparently too preoccupied to notice. The greater part of this book is set in the years between 1914 and 1924, but at intervals we are brought back to the present day, or rather to the end of the century. For as Grace recalls the events of that night for the benefit of the film director, she realises the truth has never been revealed. After all these years, she decides that before she dies, she should tell somebody all. With the aid of her daughter Ruth, she records a series of tapes for the benefit of her grandson Marcus. So what really went on that night in 1924? Was it suicide, or was there a cover-up to protect the good name of the family? It is a long read, around 600 pages, and I had the feeling that around halfway through it was in danger of losing focus a little. But then the tension built up again, before all was revealed at the end...
In my opinion the best fiction books are those that draw you into the story and that leave you feeling like you know the characters within it. However, they should also contain an element of suspense hence why I often buy a good thriller or crime fiction as opposed to getting a romantic novel. Being that I was going on holiday last week I was lent a copy of 'The House at Riverton' and whilst it did not appear to look like my usual read the front cover promised of a 'secret that would last a lifetime' which sparked my initial curiosity and left me not wanting to put the book down.
This book revolves around the early years of World War 1 and covers a period of time up to the current day. It therefore gives the reader an overview of life as a servant in a large household during the war years. It cleverly details the losses felt by both sides of the spectrum from people of the working classes to those of more fortunate means whilst also serving to enable you to see how the various household functions were performed by the many staff on a daily basis. The book perfectly shows the political hotpot which was the servant classes during the early 1900's period and shows how as some people thought servants were a given, others questioned their devotion.
The subject of the book centres around Grace Reeves and her early years as a maid in the early 1900's to a large upper class family known as the Ashbury's at Riverton House. The book opens with Grace in the present tense as an elderly lady living in a care home and tells of a tragedy in her earlier life during which a young man apparently killed himself at the family estate. The subject of this suicide is being made into a film which requires her to share her early experiences. Whilst being initially hesitant to speak of her past Grace eventually opens up the film producer and to her Grandson Marcus which develops the story line of the book into a wonderfully nostalgic novel. The book cleverly encapsulates both the past and present tenses and its chapters wind backwards and forwards in time to give the reader an insight into the way in which the past has shaped the futures of the characters within.
The storyline focuses on the lives of the characters that lived at Riverton House and outlines their achievements, joys and regrets including those of the servants. Each character is described just enough to give you a taster of their true intentions and it is knowing these characteristics which makes you question through the book the true version of events that occurred at the death scene of Robbie Hunter. Being true to her devoted character, Grace does not reveal the true version of events until the final chapter of the book and therefore they are presumed by everyone around her including the film maker.
===The Main Characters===
The story teller of the book is Grace Bradley, formally Reeves who we gather is a hard working girl from a working class background whose troubled early life has left her with many unanswered questions. Grace's mother encourages her to apply to work at a large house known as Riverton in which she herself has also worked but left her service due to circumstances unknown to the young Grace. We follow Grace throughout her early working life and later life as an elderly lady and learn of her many sacrifices and past regrets whilst also understanding the fascination and dedication she commits to her employers and mistress.
The owners of the large estate are at first Lord and Lady Ashbury who are an older couple living out a fairly traditional existence of the period. The couple have two younger sons, Major Jonathon who we gather is the more sensible and reliant of the two and will be first in line to inherit the estate and Mr Frederick who is the unhappy reminder of a man who has lost his wife during childbirth and has the unfortunate characteristic of lacking consistency in his career aspirations.
Major Jonathon has had the very unfortunate experience of losing both his young children to illnesses which we learn are attributed to an inability for their blood to clot. Hence it can be viewed at times that he and his wife Jemima are cursed with an inability to have healthy children. Mr Frederick on the other hand has had three children with his late wife and the lives of these children form in my opinion the strength of the story.
David Hartford is the elder of the three siblings and has the integrity and stoic nature that arguably forms the root of the friendship between the three children. This dependency however is not to be endured as he like many young men of that time soon becomes gripped with a desire to go to war and make something of himself a decision which will be his demise.
Hannah Hartford is the middle of the three and it is her life which eventually forms the centre of Graces world. At first Hannah is something of a feminist with a strong desire to see the world and experience it and she has an almost contagious imagination. However, she soon succumbs to marriage and a life as the wife of a wealthy American business man.
Emmeline, the youngest of the three was the cause of her mothers death during childbirth and we soon gain some sympathy for her as she struggles to find acceptance with her father who she believes blames her for her mothers' death. Emmeline is the most spirited and animated of the three children and has an enthusiasm for life which extends as she gets older into a life of partying and a constant desire for romance.
Robbie Hunter features in the book early on as a friend of David Hartford and he is a character who initially grates with Hannah. However, as the book unfolds we learn of the great poetic ability of Robbie and how this gift as well as his ability to speak his honest opinion wins over the heart of Hannah and evokes the passion that she has lost during her marriage. Whilst Robbie has shell shock from the war he also has an incredible ability to speak bluntly, even to the ever destructive Deborah and it was this characteristic that made me believe in his character. Unfortunately his death is untimely and leads to the collapse of those whose lives have been touched by him.
During the early years of the life of Grace we learn of many other characters that shaped her world including the body of staff that worked at Riverton. These include the cook at Riverton House Mrs Townsend, the head of staff Mr Hamilton, the somewhat catty and always all seeing Nancy and the love interest of Grace, Alfred. We also meet some of the extended relatives of the house along the way and eventually the American family with which Hannah finds herself marrying into. The American family are displayed in an almost gross way as being preoccupied with wealth and business and this is shown through the father and daughter Deborah and through the son with whom Hannah marries Teddy.
As with all good books, this one is exceptional by the way in which all the characters lives are shaped around each other and has an uncanny ability to link the lives of the characters in ways which you do not see coming.
A side line given in this book is 'The Game' that is a special game made up by the three children and only played by them. We understand through the game the significance of why it cannot be played by any less than three people and hence why the children are so dependent on one another. It is this game which gives complexity to the imaginations of the characters and which ultimately sparks the initial secretive world to Grace.
In my opinion, this book has everything in it for an exciting story from a passionate affair to an illegitimate child to a much clouded suicide and these are secrets shared throughout the story. The tale is beautifully written in a way in which every detail is described and every thought of the character noted. The author allows you to see the house in your minds eye with the lake and fountain being so clearly illustrated. I also found that I felt like I knew the girls Hannah and Emmeline as their intriguing world is studied by a rather fascinated Grace. This writing style of this book is one that is easy to read with the occasional word that requires a dictionary. It is therefore perfect for relaxing as it does not require a good deal of thought and worked perfectly for me as a holiday read despite its length at nearly 600 pages.
The story is the first book from author Kate Morton and is an exciting read but not just because it tiptoes around the circumstances of a strange death. Rather than just having one secret this book has a number which are interlinked by the various characters and events that have happened in the 98 years that Grace has lived. It discovers secrets, lies and questions the integrity of man in a way in which I could completely relate to and enjoy reading about. In fact even as I finished the book I still put it down having a number of unanswered questions.
I would and have already recommended this book to a number of people for the exiting and fascinating read that it gave me. I will hence be scoring it five stars out of five.
Thanks for reading.
This book can be bought from all good book retailers for around £7.99 however it is currently stocked on Amazon for £5.11 with free delivery.
I had never heard of The House at Riverton when a colleague lent it to me. She was so enthusiastic about it that I couldn't wait to start reading it and have since found out that it was nominated for the Most popular Book in the British book awards back in 2007 and was in the Sunday Times best sellers list too. Strangely this book has also been printed under the title The Shifting Fog which I don't think sounds very appealing at all.
The story is narrated in the first person by Grace Bradley. This 98 year old, fiercely independent, lady has lived an interesting life and as a girl she had been a housemaid at Riverton Manor which became renowned after the suicide of a promising young poet during a house party being held on the estate. She was contacted by a director who was planning to make a film related to the poet after it came to light that she had been working at Riverton and this reawakens many memories of her life and of lies and secrets that she would rather forget.
From the first page this was a book that gripped me completely. Graces narrative flows beautifully and the reader finds themselves completely engrossed in the Upstairs Downstairs world of the mid 1920s. Grace flits in and out of the present day and the past as she tries to leave a complete account of her life for her grandson but there is never a point where the reader becomes confused as it is all so elegantly joined together. Grace is obviously an old lady who sometimes struggles because she is tired and ailing but she feels the need to leave an accurate account of all that has happened to her in her long life. She is a perfectly written, well-rounded character and you can feel her frustration as her over-protective daughter tries to cocoon her from any stress and also her resignation at not being able to explain to a young starlet how satisfying it was for her to hold a housemaids position. Her loyalty to the Hartford Family of Riverton was paramount and sometimes it feels as if she is trying to justify decisions that she made in the past, both to herself and to her family.
Although Grace is by far the major character in this book I found that all of the characters were just as well researched and written. The children of the family; Emmeline, Hannah and David were all very different with distinctive personality traits which were obvious throughout the story. I always find it tiresome when reading novels if a character suddenly starts behaving in a manner which doesn't sit comfortably with their previous behaviours as it makes the character less real to me but Kate Moreton never fell into this trap.
The book also shows how one small white lie told to protect oneself can have repercussions for a lifetime even though the original lie may well have been forgotten.
The story develops smoothly and covers several genres. It gives a brilliant account of life below stairs and how a young housemaid may have felt when moving from her home to the "big house" and how strenuous her tasks may have been. There is also the mystery of the death of the Poet, he was known to the Hartford family but details were scarce as the family tried to cover up the scandal of a suicide on their property. Finally there is the love story, both that of Grace and of the family she lived with. I found it interesting to read about the constraints on relationships of the time as now we are free to speak to whom we want and to be seen out in public without a chaperone!
This book is a real page turner. I found the chapters were quite long and since I wouldn't put it down until I reached the end of the chapter I found that it didn't take me long to finish even though it is about 400 pages long. The House at Riverton was one of those rare books that make me feel bereft after I have finished it as I was so engrossed in its world. The mixture of genres in the one storyline made it a compelling read and although the ending was not a complete surprise the journey to it was certainly delightful and I would certainly have to recommend it.
I LOVED this book - it is one of the best books I have read in a long time.
A friend lent me this book shortly after I had read Atonement (another story where something which has happened in the past has long reaching consequences). I was a bit wary of reading it as I didnt enjoy Atonement - I felt it took too long to get to the point.
This book though was wonderful and so very different. It was a great story of upstairs downstairs life, very realistically described. It is written as a series of modern day sections interspersed with "memories of the past" sections (although I must admit the "present day" sections were nowhere near as interesting - they just seemed there as fillers but they were not too frequent so didnt spoil it for me...)
It all builds to a wonderful climax and the kind of ending which even now I think about and thingk "what if..." So many books are a great read but then fizzle out at the end - this one keeps you guessing till the last page and then leaves you thinking about it afterwards, tying together the information you had earlier in the book with the finale.
I enjoyed it so much I gave my friend her copy back and bought my own - plus one for my Mum who loved it too.
By the lake of an English Country House, two sisters witness a young poet taking his own life. The sisters never speak to each other again.
One time housemaid of Riverton, Grace Bradley, now 98, is approached by a Director who is making a film about the death of the poet at the lake. Grace begins to remember the ghosts of the past and memories, lies and secrets surface of the time she spent at Riverton - the young sisters weren't the only ones to witness the young poets death...
This story is taken from the point of view from the now elderly Grace Bradley as she sits in her retirement home speaking in a Dictaphone to her missing grandson. Grace herself is an extremely strong and likeable character, her mind is still sharp and her memories of that time have clearly been repressed all these years - I really got a great sense that I was about to be let in on a deep and dark secret that people had not known before.
The way in which this story is told is beautifully written; Grace gently takes us through her time spent, her memories and her feelings for each of the characters and it is clear that although her role as a servant in the house mostly goes unnoticed, Grace rarely missed anything when it came to her Mistresses especially.
For most of the book, Grace's history concerns itself mainly with that of the two sisters and their relationship with each other and those around them. I felt that the author built up a fantastic mental picture of the sisters Emmeline and Hannah and I loved their slow development into the opposite of what they both wanted as children. However, I found it interesting reading about the relationship between Hannah and Grace, and It was hard not to feel sympathy for both women in very different ways. Although on the outside they were completely different, growing up in very different backgrounds, each woman wanted desperately to escape, but each woman had an amazing capacity to bend to what their society wanted of them - Grace to stay faithfully at the side of her Mistress Hannah, and Hannah to do what is expected as a Lady - even if it doesn't turn out the way she had hoped. Hannah's strength and spirit throughout the book was a very likeable trait and I loved the way in which Grace just simply adored her.
Probably the best aspect of this book aside from the way In which it is so beautifully told, is that the story unravels slowly, and in no way can you guess the outcome of all the people involved at the time in 1924 at the house in Riverton. I think Grace's story gets off to a slow start; we spend most of the time finding out about her life in the present and then a fair amount of time "setting the scene" when she starts her work as a maid in 1924. However, I think that this was necessary to the plot; I got to find out the complexities of the characters and their interesting quirks and it made the main characters much easier to understand in the long run.
There are of course some obvious revelations along the way, I mainly found it both endearing and frustrating that Grace was willing to forgo her own happiness due to her total devotion to Hannah - her obedient, meek nature both heart warming and heartbreaking. However, I felt that Grace as a 98-year- old was much more straight talking, her memories of that time are specific and seem clear and I felt that she was telling the story with accuracy and only describing how she felt at the time with out sentimentality - this made up for the young and submissive servant that she once was.
This is an interesting book that looks at cause and effect; the wearing down of the women in 1924 happens gradually over time; the story is slowly unravelled to the reader and before you know it, you understand perfectly why the characters react the way they do during that time and specifically on that memorable day. It is an extremely compelling read; ultimately you know the ending of the story but you also know that it there must be more to it and that Grace's repressed memories are going to reveal some darker secrets which makes it even more gripping!
This story really did leave a lasting impression on me, It is such a sad tale with a haunting ending but still it is a read that is rich with war time history, unfulfilled dreams and a devastating love story.
I loved this book and couldn't put it down. It is a book that stayed with me after I read it, I found it very haunting.
Based in an English country house, it is the story of two very different sisters but told through the eyes of the maid. It also changes time throughout the book which gives you clues throughout the book about how it could all turn out for the sisters. This book was quite long but didn't drag at all - the descriptions were beautiful and knowing right from the beginning that there was a secret meant that every page was turned quickly!
A wonderful portrayal of society life in the 1920's and insight into what it was like for women of all classes. I loved the gothic, darker elements of the book. I would recommend this to anyone who loved 'Rebecca' or the more recent 'The Gargoyle' by Andrew Davidson.
Literary fiction at it's best.
It's safe to say I am set in my ways in terms of literature. Ever a fan of a good crime thriller, I am a staunch fan of authors such as James Patterson, John Grisham, Harlan Coben, the list goes on. More recently, I have been persuaded by my wife to branch out a bit and at least give other genres of literature a go. If I don't like it, I can always stop and revert back to my generic serial killer or troubled cop 'trash'.
Having tried and enjoyed Colin Bateman's 'I Predict A Riot', which mixed humour and crime together and was a slightly different take on crime, depicting the harsh realities of an Ireland ravaged by conflict, I felt a little inclined to go further back in history and explore a novel that was more a history than a thriller or a drama. My wife and my mother had both read this book, The House At Riverton, last year, when it won the coveted prize of being Richard and Judy's Best Summer Read, naturally propelling it to the top of the fiction chart in most high street sellers.
Curious though I was, it took untold amounts of persuasion from my wife to read it, and once I did, I found it hard going. Let me just for a second show you the blurb:
On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Grace Bradley, ninety-eight, one-time housemaid at Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and old memories - long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind - begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
Ooooh, I thought, a little mystery, methink! Maybe this is worth a go after all! And thus, I settled down to read it. Normally when I read a book, I'll read the first 20 or 30 pages or so before taking a break, but this time, I found it rather difficult to do even this. This has nothing to do with the plot as such, more just the actual writing style itself. Kate Morton has a very deliberate and thought out way of writing, as if every single word, no matter how small, large, important, or insignificant, seem to have had the most intense attention spent on it for it to prove its worth there in the sentence. The result of this is to make it seem like one of those pieces of writing that need to be devoured so as to not miss a single thing.
The story is told in the narrative format, starting off with Grace in 1999 as she prepares for a visit from her daughter, Ruth, and is visited by the director of the film, Ursula. For Grace, it opens doorways back into the past that she is unready to talk about with any save her grandson, the mysterious Marcus, who has disappeared following the death of his wife, which he blames himself for. Grace feels a closeness with Marcus that she did not feel with her own daughter, Marcus' mother, Ruth, and she begins to dictate her memories of Riverton into a dictaphone for Marcus, an author, to hold dear and put down on paper one day.
As she starts the dictation, we are sent cleverly back in time to 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I, back to the first day that Grace started as a servant at Riverton Manor. From here on, I found it very hard to put the book down, with Morton really making us feel as if we know the characters, from Grace herself as a young girl, as well as the other servants in the household: the austere butler Mr Hamilton, the cook Mrs Townsend, and the irrepressible Nancy, lady's maid to ladies of the house, and in particular Hannah and Emmeline, granddaughters of the Lord and Lady of the Manor.
It is the relationship between Grace and Hannah that stands the test of time as Morton slowly but surely transports us firstly through World War I and the tragedies that strike the family because of it, and then on into the 1920s, and the dawn of a new era and a new way of acceptance for the modern lady. Regular characters pop in and out of Grace's life as they would naturally in anyone's life, but the difference between this and other novels is that you really feel like you know each and every one of the characters who appear, and the emotions and events that change them for the better or for the worse.
Morton tells it as a tale of history, with no specific plot to grip hold of save the main recitation of one person's personal experiences through the best part of a decade. As we flick gently between Grace's past and the events that unfold in 1999, with the film being made, bits and pieces of the story that we do not get to see in detail are revealed, thus restricting our imagination and making us stay true to the story at hand and get carried away with adventurous plotlines.
The fact that it remains as one plotline and is more of a family saga throughout gives it a nostalgic feel, and although I am no expert in matters of World War I and the 1920s, I had the feeling that each and every detail was thoroughly researched, with little left out if anything at all. The secret here is that nothing is rushed, and I felt a natural compulsion to read on for ever and ever, and not want the tale to end. As the characters go from era to era, things start to become clearer, and the niggling knowledge that some secret will be revealed before long starts to come a bit more to the fore, and the historical saga becomes more intense as we close to the final few chapters. The finale of the book is hard to predict. I'm not trying to bring my flavour for the crime thriller into it, analysing too much, but there is a secret that is discussed all the way through the novel, particularly by the Grace of 1999, whose intention to record everything to Marcus is so that the secret does not die with her, and that it carries on with another.
Morton seems to have captured Edwardian England magnificently, with long descriptive passages that astounded me by keeping my attention. The clever characterisation is something that Sebastian Faulks is renowned for, although I found it particularly hard to concentrate on his literature, which is perhaps the reason I was a little hesitant in starting this book. However, Morton seems to have captured my imagination better, and write beautifully and magnificently. She has created an entire family's history, complete with cousins, servants and in-laws. Even down to events in the locality and a rather complex but naturally believable conclusion, which keeps in line with the main plot and comes as no major surprise.
Suffice to say I liked this book. At just shy of 600 pages, it is a distance longer than the majority of books I have read, but for many reasons I wanted it to be even longer still, to know what continued to befall everyone else in the story after the book finished. So real and effective was the story and its characters that I felt like I knew everyone in it, at least in the past story, not so much in that of 1999, as this is not the main focus and contains a more subtle and glossed over element of characterisation.
Kate Morton has a second book out as well, both of them published by Pan books. My wife has a copy and I intend fully to read it, although first I must let the saga of Grace and Hannah and everyone else linked with Riverton wash over and through me before I embark on another emotional piece of literature. I would not say I have been converted to a different genre, merely that my somewhat blinkered reading scope has been widened to accommodate a worthy inclusion, and I shall keep this new channel well fed with Kate Morton's literature and hopefully other similar authors. For now, though, I think I'll immerse myself in some of my 'trash' to wipe away the tears that almost fell down my face as I finished The House At Riverton. It's a wonderful novel. Do read it.
The House At Riverton is available in most bookshops. If you can find it at a low price online or in a second hand bookshop or charity shop, then grab it quick - it'll be a bargain. Similarly, it's well worth its retail price of £7.99. A thoroughly good read and one that I will remember for a long time.
Like the majority of people I first heard about this book on Richard and Judy's Book Club. At the time I was at university studying English Lit, and the fact that this book was set around the First World War immediatly struck a chord. I am immediately drawn to anything war related and even wrote about war literature in my dissertation. After hearing Richard and Judy and the guests talk about the book I had decided that this was my kind of book. The next time I was out shopping I went and bought this book and was even more optimistic after reading the blurb.
When I got home I started to read the first chapter - and it was good. However life got busy and I had other books that had to be read for uni so this book got left behind on the shelf. It was not until I'd finished uni that I picked this book up again. Unlike the previous time, this time I kept on reading. By the time I got to about chapter 4 I was absolutely hooked and I just could not put the book down.
There was something in both the style it was written and Morton's beautiful characterization that captivated me and I really wished I was there. The style also reminded me Margaret Atwood, another writer I really admire. Despite its slow beginning the plot really picks up pace and has many interesting twists and turns. I don't want to spoil the plot for anybody that has not read the book but this book is really special and intricate because of the way Grace slowly unravels the secret she witnessed all those years ago.
One aspect that surprised me about the author - Kate Morton is the fact that she is Australian as I felt that she perfectly captured the sense of what England was like during that period. This is definitely one of my favourite books of all time and since reading it I have already passed it round to my Grandma and Aunts who also really enjoyed it.
The house at Riverton was a book I seriously struggled to put down.
In the summer of 1924 a young Grace worked as a housemaid at Riverton Manor. On the eve of a glittering society party a young poet takes his life. The only two witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, for whom Grace works, will never speak to each other again.
The memory of this lays suppressed in Grace's mind until in the winter of 1999 a young director who is making a film about the young poet's suicide approaches her. As Grace recalls the tale through a tape recording to her grandson and conversations with the director ghosts awaken and old memories that have been loitering in the darkest, deepest corners of her mind break through, threatening to reveal a shocking secret that even if Grace hasn't forgotten, history has.
The novel delicately written to tell the tale from 1914 until it's end in the summer of 1924 is interspersed with flashes of the present (1999), as Kate Morton leads you on a journey through the depths of Grace's memories to the secret she has kept hidden for so long.
Each character is written with a flare so rarely seen, cleverly orchestrating through them the effects of the First World War and other pinnacle events on those who lived through them. Their relationships with one another are perfection themselves and are dealt with and explored in such a way to make certain that the reader becomes engrossed in their tale and feels their emotions, whether happiness or sadness, with them.
Morton is however very careful not to bog down the reader with unimportant facts and ensures, by telling the tragic tale of the circumstances surrounding the poet's death through the life of Grace, that we never know too much too soon. In this way she controls the path on which she allows us to view Riverton Manor only revealing the details of the event we know is going to happen at the very last moment.
The novel however can in no way be described as predictably. The story is full of twists and turns carefully woven into the main story line, keeping the reader guessing right up to the very last page.
The novel is a stunning glimpse of life, as a war-shattered Edwardian summer must surrender to the decadent twenties. Open the cover and surrender yourself to the story of love, mystery and a secret history revealed.
"Within its four walls lay a secret that would last a lifetime"
The House at Riverton is, as described on the back, a book of love, mystery and a secret history that are revealed. The novel is set in two worlds; the 'present' day and memories. Memories of a servant/maid who worked at Riverton, for the Hartfords, and is now at the age of 98with memories resurfacing of her early life due to the production of film about events that happened there.
"On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again." This is the blurb on the memories and secrets. Immediately you are aware of the events but not the route that the events took to reach that point. So Morton orchestrates the book to reach that finale. Starting in 1914 when Grace starts work at Riverton until the summer of 1924. Interspersed between memories are 'flashbacks' to reality. Magically done by Morton.
The characters of the book are written in an amazing way. By the time the catastrophic finale is reached my opinion had changed on some characters, for better and for worse.
The main character is Grace, a servant who worked at Riverton.
Other Characters in the book are the Hartford sisters. Strongly attached to one another, showing the bonds of family. These three are the principle characters, but many more appear. There is Grace mother, Alfred, more members of the Hartford family and other aristocrats. All woven together in a way that helps make this book one of the most memorable I have ever read.
The House at Riverton is a very descriptive book. Everything is described in a wonderful way. .."old memories-long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind-begin to sneak back through the cracks." Just a very short example of how Morton uses words and phrases in a very elegant manor to describe such things. They way in which the house and gardens are described is done in a very effortless way, and the images that your mind constructs are vivid and memorable. The way Morton manages to describe and catch that 1920 feeling; through the jazz age in London to the Edwardian period of World War One is magical.
In the back of the book Morton tells where she was influenced for this book from. One caught my eye, Upstairs Downstairs, and this can be seen through the book. The relationship between servants and masters, the seen and heard to the 'invisible' are all very evident in this book. The social plight that the servants carried, how some yearned for more from life, how others were more conservative. Morton weaves together the tales of the Kitchen and the ballroom in a very elegant way. The relationships between servants and masters are shown clearly; loyalty, respect, unquestionable service.
Further social aspects are evident through the book. Scandal is depicted and the reaction and conclusion shown. The trauma of world war one and the death and misery it brought to millions of people is depicted. The arrival home of the troops, changed with shock is depicted. The book shows so much of the life of the the period (1914-1924) that it simply is a great eye opener and history lesson.
One trap that Morton perhaps falls into, is the introduction of so many characters. There are masses of characters. All having a part to play in the story. In places where a lot are introduced all at once can easily cause confusion, however you soon become accustomed to the new arrivals. The amount of characters does increase the reality of the book however. Over a ten year time span it would be ludicrous just to mention 6 or seven characters, but through the way Morton introduces them it creates continuity and a realistic edge over some other books.
In places the book does become slow moving and can lack the pace it did at the start. However this is soon rectified as you plough on and reach further into the story. The event that is told on the blurb, the poet's suicide, is only reached reached at the very end of the novel; and we see what happened through Grace's eyes. The fact that the book could be seen as 'eventless' would mean that it is not for everyone.
I did find the book easy to get into. Straight away the descriptive writing of Morton is evident and captivates the reader. The secrecy element starts straight away. Dare i liken the book to Lost? The way the more you read the more you ask, and the more you read the more answers you get, yet more questions. But with this book all does become clear in the end.
One credit that I think Kate Morton deserves is due to the fact that she was born, educated and lives in Australia. So what? Well the amount of research that she has had to put into to making this novel is unprecedented. Research the period, research the period and what was occurring in England, research all the social aspects, research the role of servant and master. An awful lot of work and effort has been put into this book and it shines through.
The book has been recommended for those who have enjoyed Atonement and Gosford Park. I have read/watched neither so cannot say. However I did get the feel in the book that it was similar to Atonement through the trailers I have seen and the secret element being carried throughout the novel. Those who prefer action packed books, thrillers perhaps should avoid this book as I don't think that it would be your cup of tea!
I found this book compelling, addictive, masterfully written, descriptive and an elegant read.
The book is 592 pages long.
Priced at £7.99 it is worth every penny and I am sure that those people who like a good novel will adore this book. Crowned the summer read of 2007 I am sure it is the flavour for 2008, I can't wait for her next book!
I first found this book after reading up on the Richard and Judy Summer Reads 2007, and after loving some of the other books on their list, I decided I would try this one. This isn't normally the kind of book I would go for, but I really liked the blurb on the back so I was even more keen!
This is author Kate Morton's first novel. She is an Australian author, and this novel won her the Australian Book Industry Award for General Fiction Book of the Year. Please note, the book is only called The House At Riverton in the UK, it is called The Shifting Fog in Australia and New Zealand. I think the English title suits it much better though!
The book is set both in 1999, and 1914 and the years following that right up until about 1924. Grace Bradley was a housemaid at Riverton Manor, following in her mother's footsteps, and was witness to a tragedy when a young poet takes his own life at the lake at Riverton. 2 sisters who live at the house, Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, never speak again, and the secret dies with them, but lives on in a young Grace, who is haunted by this secret up until the present day when she is a 98 year old woman living in a nursing home.
The book starts off in the modern time, introducing us to Grace, and her situation. She is an old woman, with a daughter called Ruth, and a nephew who has run away aafter the death of his young wife. Grace is harbouring many secrets but does not know who she can tell about it. She discovers that a young American woman is making a movie about Riverton Manor and the tragedy which occured there on the lake 70 years ago.
Grace meets with Ursula, and visits the set of Riverton Manor, where it is going to be filmed. Grace is shocked by the likeness of the set to the house she used to work, and is upset by it. She goes back home ,and decides to put down on record once and for all what happened at Riverton over the years she served there.
The rest of the book is narrated by Grace, and set at the time she worked at Riverton, from 1914 onwards. She works longside many other servants, who keep the Manor running smoothly, and she makes a few friends there, which we learn a bit more of later in the book. They all serve the Hartford family who have lived at Riverton for many years. Hannah, Emmeline and David Hartford are the young children there, whom Grace loves to watch and wishes to be a part of their world.
The book is written wonderfully in a narrative text, and every detail is explored and not a tone is left unturned. The accounts by Grace are very detailed, and the storyline unfolds beautifully. Kate Morton has clearly researched the period in which the book is set very well, there is a lot of detail about clothing, rations, shell-shock of the war etc throughout the book, and it is all used in the right context.
Kate Morton uses a lot of descriptive text when writing about Riverton Manor and it's ground. You can really lose yourself in this description and I find it easy to visulise the house, it is fantastic. The pictures in my head are mesmerising, and it is so atmospheric, you can really believe you are there!
I absolutely adored this book. As I said before, it is not normally the sort of book I would read, but I am so glad that I read it now! For a first nove, this one is superb, and I am not at all surprised she won a literary prize for it. It is a perfect Summer Read, it is captivating, unputdownable and just a spell-binding story of the past.
For me, I found the ending surprising as it was not what I thought aat all. There was no mention of it throughout the book at all, right up until the last 20 or so pages! This worked very well as it allowed you to fully build in your mind a picture of the family, of Grace, and how they lived. The story isn't spoilt by the threat of spoiling the ending, you can just enjoy the narrative text and lose yourself in the world of Riverton.
Everything is tied up beautifully at the end, nothing is left unanswered, and I was left feeling very satisfied with the ending of the story. It flowed so well, and I felt it ended in the best way that it could have. It continued in the soft, quiet way that the novel had progressed, and did not feel out of place. This book will certainly stay with me for a long time, and I have bought my own copy for my bookshelf, I know I will read this one again.
I have seen this advertised as a romance novel, as a mystery noel but I would not be able to pigeon-hole it into either of these, for me it fulfills both genres comfortably. The pace is slow and steaady, but this really enables you to emerge yourself in a world of time gone by. bOne of the best reads for me this year.
The novel is published by Pan Macmillan, and you can buy in the shops now for £7.99 although Amazon and Play.com are selling it for just £3.99 , and for this price, I would thoroughly recommend you try this novel! ISBN: 978-0330448444, and contains 396 pages.
I do have to quickly mention the cover of the book, which is something else that drew me to the book if I am honest! There is a picture of iron-cast gates surrounded by lush green foliage with the title "The House At Riverton" in cream text just underneath this. A small text reads "Within its four walls lay a secret that would last a lifetime". Captivating, and describes the novel perfectly. Fiction at its best.
Summer 1924: On the eve of a glittering Society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again. Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long-consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could. A thrilling mystery and a compelling love story, The House at Riverton will appeal to readers of Ian McEwan's Atonement, L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, and lovers of the film Gosford Park.