Sunday, May 3, 2009

"The House at Riverton" opens in the years before the First World War, with Grace, our narrator, beginning her career of service as a housemaid at Riverton, a great English country estate. Grace is immediately drawn to the children of Riverton--David aged 16, the eldest, Hannah, a boisterous girl of 14, and Emmeline a shy 10 year old. Grace feels an immediate connection with the children, and longs to be included in their secrets. Over the next several years she becomes closer to them, first as they visit the house, then after the death of their grandfather and uncle in the Great War, which leads them to take up permanent residence in the house. Hannah marries soon after turning 18, and decides to take Grace with her as a ladies maid. After marrying, Hannah's life slowly unravels, and she takes Grace with her into her decline. Grace escapes, but only with the knowledge of a terrible family secret. 

Kate Morton is an excellent storyteller, and she does a fantastic job slowly unfolding the secrets of "The House at Riverton." I thought I had figured out the "twist" in this book, but was surprised in the end to find out I had gotten it wrong. Her description of life during and after WWI in England feels authentic, and she does a great job capturing the emotions of the different characters. I do wish she had given us a little bit more about Grace--throughout the novel Grace hints at all of the wonderful things she has done in her life, and I would have liked to read more about them, instead of the novel focusing exclusively on Grace's interactions with the doomed Hartford sisters. 

I came to this novel after reading Morton's more recent "The Forgotten Garden". If you enjoyed that book, I think you won't be disappointed by this one.

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