359 of 373 people found the following review helpful
In 1914, fourteen-year old Grace came to Riverton Manor as a housemaid. There she met the Master's grandchildren, whose lives would forever be linked with her own. Now 98, Grace looks back at those early years of duty, selflessness, and silence.
To give away more of the plot would be to rob other readers of the sublime delight I found in reading this book. It is told through the eyes of an old lady who has known great sorrow and some joy, who has seen Edwardian society give way to hard rock and managed to adapt to it all with wisdom and humor. The story paints a vivid picture of life among the idle rich before and after the first War, how carefree children became conflicted adults, and how passion erupted in gunfire one grand summer night.
The author has written such a wonderful story I sobbed through the last chapters, not wanting it to end. It would make a great movie - it's powerful, dramatic, and heartbreaking, equal parts of mystery, romance, and history - and is the best book I've read in a long time.
136 of 142 people found the following review helpful
The first two lines of "The House at Riverton" by Kate Morton, are an homage to "Rebecca" and then the novel is reminiscent of "Remains of the Day", "Gosford Park", "The Great Gatsby" and other gothic and romantic novels...all acknowledged by the author in the Afterward. All this makes Morton's first novel deliciously readable, engrossing and fun. She takes the tried and true literary motif of an elderly woman, Grace, recounting the story of her life with heavy hints at a few gothic secrets to be revealed in due course. And it works beautifully! I used to love reading these kinds of stories when I was young; who didn't? Thus it was a wonderful treat to find this gem of a novel which completely captivated me for several days. Yes, one can have a first person narrator who is also omniscient when she is a servant; ubiquitous yet silent, hearing and seeing almost all.
I won't recount the plot or slip in any spoilers, but I want to make note of what a wonderful job Morton does of depicting the unraveling of the constricting social mores after WWI, especially for women and for the service class as they shed the oppression of the Victorian age and entered the "Roaring 20s" with its bohemian and jazzy style.
There are the usual and expected "errors of birth" that we won't be terribly surprised by...we know some secrets before Grace figures them out herself, but one is saved for the end and nicely slipped in.
"The House at Riverton" has been a best seller in England and Morton's homeland, Australia, and I can understand why; I expect it will do very well here in the US, too, as we are endlessly fascinated by tales of British high society and all the intricacies of the upstairs/downstairs ways of life. I will anxiously await Morton's next novel!
94 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2008
It's hard to believe this magnificent novel is a first effort by Kate Morton. I will certainly be looking forward to her future work, as this is a well-crafted narrative that exposes a story from the past through the remembrances of ninety-eight-year-old Grace Bradley.
A scandalous tragedy at a lavish English party in 1924 is about to be made into a movie and, as the last surviving person from the event, Grace is interviewed by a dedicated young filmmaker. The filmmaker wants to be clear on all details of a young poet's suicide and present an accurate portrayal. Only Grace knows that history in not correct and what everyone thinks happened did not happen at all. She has kept the secret for over 70 years and it has haunted her memory.
Morton does a masterful job of taking the reader into the lives of the idle rich, the servants who are devoted to them, and the secret liaisons that connect the two classes in forbidden ways. The conflict between desire and possibility is played out generation after generation.
The unreliability of accepted facts, the haunting of the present by the past, and the inescapability of inherited social standing determining one's fate all combine for a searing story I could not put down.
The characters are wonderfully three-dimensional, the plot well-paced and highly believable, the explosive conclusion well worth the time invested. I cannot recommend this one highly enough and can only hope Kate Morton continues to gift us with her talent for storytelling.
101 of 112 people found the following review helpful
"The House at Riverton" centers on the lives of Grace Bradley, a housemaid at the English country estate of Riverton and two of its residents, sisters Hannah and Emmeline. The novel spans the years of 1914 to 1924 in Essex and London. During a soirée at Riverton, a young poet, Robbie Hunter, commits suicide and only the two sisters and Grace are witnesses to the truth behind his tragic death.
The novel begins in 1999 with a 98-year-old Grace, now nearing her end as a resident in a nursing home. A filmmaker who's directing a retrospective of Riverton approaches her, eager to plumb her memories of the house, her years of service and Robbie's death. This project becomes a catalyst for Grace's revelations of her time at Riverton and the disastrous misunderstanding that led to that fateful night. The story unfolds through flashbacks, alternating between the early 1900s and 1999.
One can almost tell that Ms. Morton is a romantic at heart. Her characters are imbued with the tragic romanticism pervasive in historical fiction. Whether this is a welcome element or not depends greatly on the reader's preferences. I find it to be tedious only because I prefer stark realism. (For example, it would have been far more interesting for me if WWI had been woven into the characters' lives in more than a cursory way, considering that it toppled four empires and its casualties numbered in the tens of millions.) Even setting that aside, the "Upstairs Downstairs" redux here is too obvious. The characters that populated the 1970s miniseries are unashamedly `resurrected' so to speak--Mr. Hudson is now Mr. Hamilton, Mrs. Bridges is now Mrs. Townsend, Ruby is now Katie, Rose is now Grace, etc. One can almost `hear' Gordon Jackson, Jean Marsh and Angela Baddeley `speaking' the dialogues in this novel.
There are two mysteries in the story--first is Grace's paternity, and second is what really happened the night Robbie supposedly killed himself. The first can be easily discounted. Only the most inattentive of readers will miss the clues that were evident by page 50. Ms. Morton doesn't so much as drop or couch clues as she allows them to sprout hands and wave hello. Not a good thing for a mystery. The second is treated much better, and though one can still guess the secrets Grace has been keeping for decades, the truth is still satisfactory since it is incorporated in a very touching way to her final days with her family.
Re the plot, Ms. Morton has dutifully listed the sources of her inspiration, but I have some difficulty reconciling `inspiration' with the `lifting' of plot points. Anyone who has read Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin" or L. P. Hartley's "The Go-Between" or Barbara Vine's "A Dark-Adapted Eye" will immediately recognize the similarities. (Even the book's opening line is derivative of du Maurier.) Re the devices, there's nothing new with an elderly person nearing the end of his/her life needing to reveal decades-long secrets through flashbacks ("The Thirteenth Tale," "The Brimstone Wedding," "The Chatham School Affair," "The Sixth Lamentation," etc.). Same with the unexplainable `lure' of a manor (Manderley, anyone?), the noblesse oblige of the upper class, past secrets that haunt the present, female frustration over restrictive social mores, hysteria, etc. Even a casual reader of Gothic already knows these devices and tropes by heart.
I appreciate the fact that historical fiction is a daunting challenge to a writer who, at the minimum, has to accurately depict the place, time and lingo of a past era. However, there are minor flubs here that could have been easily caught by the editor. (Ms. Morton is Australian writing in the voice of an Englishwoman.) `Cane' should have been `walking stick'; `ma', `da', `wee' are Highlands-speak, the characters are English, not Scottish; `Selfridge's' as anyone who's shopped in London knows should be `Selfridges'; `haberdashers' sell notions if they still exist, they certainly don't sell Dictaphones; `salary' ought to be `wages'; Grace buys Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Valley of Fear" before it is published as a book when it would have been more believable for her to have read Strand Magazine's prior serialization of it; the carrying of handguns was not outlawed until the 1950s, yet here, it occurs in the 1920s; etc.
Call "The House at Riverton" derivative or pastiche--both are true--but, surprisingly, it still manages to be an enjoyable read, especially its latter chapters. Lovers of historical fiction will derive much pleasure and may be much more forgiving than I've been. For a first effort, the writing is skillful, and if one dismisses from the mind the many sources of its characters and plot, it really can be engrossing.
60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
"War makes history seem deceptively simple. They provide clear turning points, easy distinctions: before and after, winner and loser, right and wrong. True history, the past, is not like that. It isn't flat or linear. It has no outline. It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space. And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version is proffered...."
The House at Riverton is a true historical novel, in all senses of the term. Told from the first person perspective of 98 year old Grace, the narrative alternates between present and past, the story flowing seamlessly from the recesses of her memory and more than 50 years of painful reflection. Riverton has many themes: the myriad damages wrought by war, the relentlessly impersonal evolution of society, the slippery intricacies of relationships, the crucial importance of self-actualization. It is mystery in reverse: from many clues, from the atmosphere of secrecy and suspense, we know with absolute certainty that something dreadful happens, but the exact nature of the tragedy becomes fully apparent only on the final page. Ms Morton's characters, Grace, the sisters, the men in their lives, the servants, are genuine and vibrant, real people that the reader comes to know, love, hate, and care about in one way or another. By the conclusion of this finely crafted novel, we know Grace the best, and as she faces her own death, we understand that she has learned important lessons from the past, has truly learned to live her own life on her own terms.
Riverton is an exceptionally strong debut from a gifted writer. One can only imagine and anticipate what Morton might have in store for us next!
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Just prior to WWI, fourteen-year-old Grace goes into service with the Hartford family at Riverton in rural England, as did her mother before her. Raised without a father by a woman who never speaks about him, the girl is awed by her opportunity, albeit a bit intimidated by the grandeur and demands of the household. Years later, in her late 90s, the past comes rushing back when a young director approaches Grace in the home where she resides, explaining that a film is being made about the tragic circumstances at Riverton in 1924, where a successful and brooding young poet took his life during a family celebration. That night and her part in it have haunted Grace, the events that lead to Robbie Hunter's death veiled in secrecy. But at fourteen, Grace cannot begin to fathom what the years will bring, the secrets she will keep, or the decisions she will make. Guilt has resided in her heart since that fateful night, and close to the end, Grace has a need to finally unburden herself.
The attrition of war decimates the family at Riverton, the Hartford daughters, Hannah and Emmeline, the focus of Grace's attention, their troubles hers, their needs her duty, especially Hannah, who is the same age as Grace, Hannah's life a counterpoint to Grace's long years of faithful service. What seems a new direction for Grace becomes fate, personal happiness sacrificed to support her better. The family devastated by loss and mourning, Hannah and Emmeline's father, Frederick, plays a small but important role in Hannah's decision to marry, taking Grace with her, bonding the women together, Grace a pale shadow to her lady. Grace lives vicariously, but never fully, as her mistress, at odds with the life she has chosen, follows a dangerous path that will eventually lead to that terrible event, Hannah and Emmeline caught in an impossible conundrum and a shocking denouement at Riverton in 1924.
Classicism rears its ugly head throughout the novel, the "upstairs-downstairs" sensibilities of Grace's situation defining the direction of her life. A great leveler, war is the vehicle of change, although at first it is not felt much in the rarified air of the estate, nor in the attitude of wealthy Americans who descend upon the family, only to hasten the demise of Hartford unity in their greed to absorb the culture and refinement of the Hartford's. Over time, Grace puts aside her own dreams to serve Hannah's. There are sporadic moments when the author captures the innocence of England pre-WWI, the horrors of war and damage to young men returning from fields of blood, the country staggering under the weight of its losses; yet reality always intrudes, Hannah and Emmeline enjoying their tea while Grace hovers, entitlement superimposed on a household divided by privilege and service. This is a tale of love gone wrong, yes, but even more so of masters and servants, a society consumed with appearance, an empire built on the backs of the working class. Grace's small joys are obliterated by the guilt she assumes in a world of few choices. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2010
I am a complete sucker for the type of story where an old lady looks back on her long life, musing on the past, on hidden secrets and tucked-away regrets. Combine that familiar but fascinating frame of a story with a late Edwardian/WWI setting and you've completely hooked me into your book - no questions asked.
But that's exactly the problem with Riverton - the pages will fly beneath your fingertips and you'll find yourself consuming chapters at a rapid pace but ultimately you'll get to the end of the book and you'll have more questions than answers.
Without completely giving away the plot, I felt that the big "surprises" were completely obvious almost from the get-go while some of the key relationships in the book - between Grace and Hannah and between Hannah and Emmeline especially were underdeveloped. Grace makes a decision about 75% of the way through the book that occurs far too quickly and yet it's meant to be a moment of ultimate sacrifice that sets up the tragedy of later events - instead, it feels rote and predictable.
I suspect that a great deal of the book's problems have to do with pacing - you know the results of the key moment in the book almost from the beginning and hear it about so many more times throughout the 468 pages that by the time it actually takes place in the narrative, it's almost a letdown. The reader has been repeatedly told that the events of that night were "horrifying" and changed several lives permanently. I read it and had only one reaction - "Finally!"
Riverton does succeed at pulling you into a seductive narrative, walking you through a great English manor house at leisure; allowing you to roll in summer-heated gardens and ward off a chill by an enormous fireplace. You'll see parties from both sides of the social spectrum - from the upper-class dining room to the servant's kitchen downstairs. The sense of social customs, the servants and the family's ways of speaking to each other and the descriptions of ball gowns, parties and motorcars all feel spot-on. You can even subtly sense the changes in society from pre-WWI to the beginning of the Roaring Twenties.
Unfortunately, it feels as if Morton devoted more time to creating a literary world she loves rather than creating a plot that it something more than a pastiche of familiar Gothic novels. If you want to read a book with an old lady as an unreliable narrator, a forbidden love affair, a tortured sister relationship and a fading rich family's fortunes, try Margaret Atwood's vastly superior The Blind Assassin - a book that brilliantly stitches together several different literary traditions into something new. Or, give Kate Morton another try with the more interesting The Forgotten Garden
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The House at Riverton is what I like best: a book that has a strong plot, riveting characters, and a sense of time and place that sweeps you along until you are experiencing every nuance. Set in World War I and 1920s England, this is a rapidly evaporating time when the division between the classes was still being upheld rigorously and family secrets were dark and best left alone. I was captured from page one.
Fourteen year old Grace is thrilled when she is taken into service at the local manor, the same as her mother had done many years before. Almost at once she is swept into the lives of the two sisters, Hannah and Emmeline, and their older brother David. Through tragedies great and small, Grace begins to understand where she belongs and her place within the family. Just when it seems as though her life is mapped before her, however, Hannah marries and takes Grace with her to London. It is through Grace's eyes that we see how life for Hannah and her sister takes a disastrous turn and family secrets spill out. Throughout the novel, we venture back and forth between the Grace of youth and the one who is elderly and looking back on this era.
I was engaged from the first word and didn't want it to end as I turned the last page. This debut novel is truly a saga of the first order, and it will pull you into its depths and leave you bereft yet satisfied. I cannot say enough good things about the writing and Ms. Morton's gift for turning a phrase and relating her characters. This is a true gift of a novel, and one I highly, highly recommend.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This book is a must read for lovers of historical novels and enthralling, well-written, atmospheric mysteries, The House at Riverton is a literary feast for those who love writers like Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan or Daphne DuMaurier and books reminiscent of The Forsythe Saga, Upstairs,Downstairs and Water for Elephants.
In this page-turner of a novel, beautifully written and evocative of the era in England prior to and after World War 1, the author succeeds in weaving a complex tale of passion, jealousy and intrigue utilizing the past memories of 98 year old Grace Bradley and the secret she has jealously guarded for over 60 years.
This jigsaw puzzle of a tale cleverly takes the various, seemingly insignificant, strands of Graces life and plaits them with the lives of other members of the Riverton household to form a lusterous braid with a couple of astonishing twists at its end. There is literally not a hair out of place in this fascinating journey through an era of crumbling social barriers and evolving English social morals and traditions.
This book cries out to be made into a movie. As I read, I could visualize Kate Blanchett as Hannah, Judy Dench as old Grace, Kate Winslet as young grace, Gerard Butler as Alfred, Colin Firth as Frederick, Keira Knightly as Emmaline .....well you get the picture. (pun intended).
I look forward with great anticipation to Kate Mortons next literary offering. In the meantime let me offer the following: "if you read only one book this year, make it this one!"
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2007
This was a choice by my reading group and I really wasn't looking forward to reading it. I thought it was going to be a light `woman's' read, full of flowery descriptions. The cover, although very pretty looked like `The Secret Garden' and added to my reservations.
How wrong I was!!
The story is told by Grace, a wonderful character whose memories are reawakened by Ursula who is making a film about the tragic suicide of a poet. The way the author brings the realities of old age to us through Grace is both truthful and poignant.
"She passes the photograph to me, lays it across my gnarled fingers. Our hands met for an instant and she withdraws quickly, frightened she might catch something. Old age perhaps."
So often the elderly are dismissed as just `old' and we can't imagine them ever being young. Yet Grace has experienced so much. As she shares her memories with us we get to know so many rich characters and you feel you're almost living through the first two decades of the twentieth century with her.
For all it's nearly 600 pages, I just couldn't put it down and read it in 4 days.