Mrsgaskell's Reviews > The House at Riverton

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
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Aug 21, 2010

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bookshelves: library, 7-star
Read from August 21 to 24, 2010

** spoiler alert ** This was a good read but, having recently read The Forgotten Garden by the same author, I had very high expectations which were not met. The Forgotten Garden was riveting. The House at Riverton was not nearly so compelling; in fact the story dragged a bit at times, and the outcome was much less satisfying. It was, however, an interesting account of life upstairs and downstairs in the homes of the privileged during the period of World War I and the time of great social change which followed. This was the author’s debut novel and that may account for the much higher quality of storytelling in The Forgotten Garden.
At the age of fourteen, shortly before the First World War, Grace Bradley went into service at Riverton; her mother had been in service there before her but forced to leave when she became pregnant. As she goes about her chores in the background, Grace is soon drawn into the lives of the Hartford daughters, Hannah and Emmeline, particularly Hannah who is the same age. Eventually Grace becomes lady’s maid to the sisters. The story is told in the form of reminiscences. Grace is now a 98-year-old nursing home resident whose memories turn increasingly to Riverton once she is visited by a young American film director, Ursula, who is making a film about tragic events which took place at Riverton during the summer of 1924. Grace decides to dictate tapes for her missing grandson Marcus, in the process remembering and revealing secrets from the past. I found the young Grace somewhat naïve at times and wondered why she didn’t reach the obvious conclusion about her parentage sooner.It would have been nice to have been given a reason why Lord and Lady Ashbury took her on at Riverton given that their then-married younger son, Frederick, was her father, making her the half-sister of Hannah, Emmeline, and their older brother David. Also, I questioned why her mother, left very bitter by the experience, allowed Grace to go to Riverton. I was also disappointed that Grace did not reveal to Ursula that her grandmother was in fact Hannah’s daughter, not a more remote connection. The revelation of what happened in the summer of 1924 was not really all that surprising. It had been clear all along that the official version, the suicide of a young post-war poet, was not what really happened.


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