Title: The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: Last November I had a nightmare.
The House at Riverton is the story of Grace, a young girl who comes to Riverton to work as a housemaid at the age of 14. She arrives right before the dawn of World War I, and her life becomes inextricably linked to the Hartford family, and especially the two granddaughters, Hannah and Emmeline. Grace is the same age as Hannah, and the two girls grow up together through the turbulent war years and the changes that are forced upon the aristocracy.
At the age of 98, Grace begins to look back at her years at Riverton and then as a lady’s maid to Hannah, ready to examine the memories and the guilt that is associated with them. Perhaps in reliving her story, she will come to a measure of peace.
As I was reading The House at Riverton, I was continually reminded of Brideshead Revisited, and wasn’t surprised to see Kate Morton list Evelyn Waugh as an influence in her aknowledgements. Like Waugh’s novel, The House at Riverton deals with a time in Britain’s history when the world was changing. The aristocracy and upper class were steeped in tradition and propriety, and when war dawned and changed society, and especially the younger generations, they weren’t prepared to change with the times.
There is a mystery at the heart of this book, a secret, and it is unwrapped slowly and carefully, each clue placed at just the right moment to remind you that something is coming. I was caught up in the story of Grace and the two Hartford sisters, and although I wanted to know the secret, I wanted to savor the story. When the mystery was finally revealed, it was much different than I had expected, even though Morton had artfully planted hints along the way. I love a book with a twist at the end – especially when I don’t see it coming.