Elizabeth's Reviews > The House At Riverton

The House At Riverton by Kate Morton
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bookshelves: fiction, bookclub-ladies, 2011

I probably would have enjoyed Kate Morton's debut novel The House at Riverton more if I had not already experienced the greater expression of her writing talent in The Forgotten Garden. Riverton shares many of the themes of her later work, but with the narrator at a greater remove from the focus of the story, it tends to make her characterizations a bit flat. The story of the Hartford family, focused on the sisters Hannah and Emmeline is told by Grace, a servant to the family for many years. Her unequal social relationship to the sisters keeps her at a distance and their experiences are relayed through her limited perspective.

While I appreciate the detail taken to illuminate the differences in the lives of the social classes, it seemed to take the novel a long time to build up tension around the incident at the heart of the book's mystery. The last quarter of the book moved along well, but by that time many of the hints throughout the book had answered most of the questions, just the details remained to be filled in. The use of foreshadowing became a bit repetitive, giving the book the feel of a serial at times.

When I reached the end of the book, I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like if Morton had used the ending as a jumping off point for a story about Grace’s later life. The book tantalizes us with interesting details about choices she made as a woman that seemed much more interesting to me. How did she transform from a Victorian lady's maid into an independent career-minded woman, exploring the world as an archeologist? What happened in her relationship with her daughter Ruth over the years? How did she and Alfred find each other after over half a lifetime and how had their relationship changed? Unfortunately we didn't get to experience Grace's character growth within the story itself.

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Reading Progress

April 19, 2011 – Shelved
May 14, 2011 – Started Reading
May 22, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-32 of 32 (32 new)

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message 1: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue I think you're right. Grace's transformation and later life would make a great story. I defnitely got the impression Grace's life "started" after World War II. Morton could do a sequel.


Andi (A Literal Hottie) Was it me or did Morton make you think Grace was Hannah's sister? Did I miss something?


message 3: by Elizabeth (last edited May 02, 2012 05:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elizabeth Its been a while since I read it, but if I remember correctly, Grace was an illegitimate sister, though never claimed publicly (or even privately for that matter) by her father. Her mother had been a maid at the house.


Martie Yes, Grace & Hannah were half sisters but we don't know if Hannah ever knew that.


Gena Terranova I read the Forgotten Garden prior to The House at Riverton and absolutely fell in love with the Forgotten Garden. It was hard for me to get through to the first half because I felt the process wasn't as adventurous as the garden. Both incredibly creative and wonderfully written, I wish we would have know more about grace's life after Riverton and more of emmeline as well as Mr. Fredrick and even Robbie. I loved Grace and Hannah but couldn't quite get a grasp on Emmeline and Robbie. We knew some about them, but I wanted to get to know Robbie's feelings on Hannah. Yes he loved her but when Hannah went back to Riverton, how did they connect/communicate to run off together? I didn't care to the reveal of how Robbie really died and being a romantic I am was disappointed.

The Forgotten Garden however I still love remembering the story and thought the plot and characters were incredibly creative and endured ever minute reading that one.
I have the Distant hours and will be starting it soon as I still love Kate's work and think she is an amazing story teller! Can't wait to read the Distant hours.


Lori Anderson I'm getting ready to read this and have read two of hers already, including The Forgotten Garden...will be interesting to see what I think. I'm always sad when an author I like has a FABULOUS first read and rhen the second one is completely off.


Elizabeth Lori wrote: "I'm getting ready to read this and have read two of hers already, including The Forgotten Garden...will be interesting to see what I think. I'm always sad when an author I like has a FABULOUS firs..."

I think you'll still enjoy it, but her later works are better, as it should be with a great author.


Kate Moore Yes I found this very disjointed and all over the place, in comparison to the forgotten garden ( which I loved). Morton's style of prose, flipping from Grace dictating tapes to her grandson to recalling the past was not distinctive enough for me. I had to continually turn back pages to work out new characters introduced in newspaper snippets.....great story line but lacking something


Michelle Great review, you summed up how I felt exactly.


message 10: by Deb (new) - rated it 3 stars

Deb You summed it up--now I don't have to write a review!


Kristin I agree, you put it perfectly, something was missing. Though good, engrossing and entertaining, I think having read the forgotten garden and the secret keeper first and not realizing that the house at river ton was her debut novel, led me to expect more from it. I think, like you say, every good author should grow and improve, and she certainly has done so. I am about to start the distant hours and am hoping to enjoy it as much as the other 3.


Nadia I agree with everything you've said about this book (and I also read The Forgotten Garden first).


Elizabeth Thanks!


message 14: by Diane (new)

Diane My daughter just finished this and felt
the same as you did Elizabeth, being
disjointed, overlong and rambling.
She also loved "The Forgotten
Garden".


message 15: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna Well said!


message 16: by Cathc (new)

Cathc I'm enjoying this book, it's the first time I have read this particular author's work. I can't help but be irritated by the use of US/Australian terminology throughout in a story about a very English family. A good proof reader could have sorted this detail out very easily.


Debbie Norberg I couldn't put into words how I felt about the book until I read your review. You are absolutely right. I was disappointed in this one after reading "The Secret Keeper" which I absolutely loved.


Jessica Mae I also fell in love with The Forgotten Garden prior to discovering this novel. Similar to your comment, I would likely have enjoyed it more had it come first. With that said, it simply was not comparable to the intertwining of lives and mystery..


Farii and also there the fact about the similarities almost mirror like between the character of Gracie and Nell from the forgotten garden. both the person having to have mother-child issues yet they can reach out to their grandchildren nevertheless.


Jessica Mahajan I agree that Grace's life after she left service would be a great story!


Jessica Mahajan I agree that Grace's life after she left service would be a great story!


message 22: by Renee (new) - added it

Renee I agree with your comment and review. At times I was very confused with the story, how she mentioned a date but went backwards from there. I feel like some of the important parts were rushed through too. I also would have enjoyed hearing how she went on to become what she was, but I guess that would have given away the letter at the end. I will try her other books after reading how much some have enjoyed them.


message 23: by Renee (new) - added it

Renee I agree with your comment and review. At times I was very confused with the story, how she mentioned a date but went backwards from there. I feel like some of the important parts were rushed through too. I also would have enjoyed hearing how she went on to become what she was, but I guess that would have given away the letter at the end. I will try her other books after reading how much some have enjoyed them.


message 24: by Angelica (new) - added it

Angelica Agree. Excellent review.


Suzanne Exactly! :)


Veronica I agree with the point about the hints being repetitive but I think that it may have been intentional. Grace is almost 100 at this point in the book. Watching my great grandma aging may give me some insight on this. She often repeated things she just said or stories she'd told many times before. With this story being told by Grace it makes sense that she would repeat things


Elizabeth Good point Veronica.


Crystal Hewett Totally agree! Nice to see how she has developed and grown to suck us into her stories and characters.


Kathy Kattenburg I really, really, appreciate this comment, because it speaks to the reason why I finished this book SO ANGRY. The incident that ended the book was so shocking -- after pages and pages and pages of build up so that by the last two pages, you were deeply emotionally invested in two particular characters, and then to have it end the way it did, felt to me an incredibly cruel trick to play on the reader. But if Kate Morton had structured the book like you suggested -- with the concluding event shown in flashback at the start, and the focus of the book being more about how Grace comes to terms with her guilt, and then ends with Grace getting that second chance with Alfred, Morton could have ended the book on a more hopeful note, without compromising the theme of the "triangle" that led to the tragedy.

I want to thank you, because you have actually helped me understand why I felt so enraged at Morton for that horrifying ending.


Elizabeth Kathy wrote: "I really, really, appreciate this comment, because it speaks to the reason why I finished this book SO ANGRY. The incident that ended the book was so shocking -- after pages and pages and pages of ..."

Hi Kathy - Thanks for sharing your thoughts, that means a lot to me!


message 31: by May (new) - rated it 4 stars

May I felt much the same. There is more to tell us about Grace’s life after Riverton House. It could a novel all on its own.


Sharron Clatworthy I agree graces life does come across as exciting and the ending how much did Hannah leave her was that that helped to set her on her way grace needs her own story told


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