Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

TITLE: The House at Riverton
AUTHOR: Kate Morton
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Washington Square Press/2009
GENRE: Historical Fiction
SOURCE: Purchased.

Goodreads / Author's Website

Summary From Goodreads
Summer 1924
On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Winter 1999
Grace Bradley, ninety-eight, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and old memories - long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind - begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.

I absolutely love historical fiction. I do. I devour it. Can't help it; it may in fact be a sickness. Kate Morton's The House at Riverton is an excellent example as to why I love it. There's a mystery hidden in the past and it's intriguing. It has this glamour, but I as a reader can look at it in hindsight and see the gaps. I love reading about history and read a lot of non fiction so historical fiction to me is like it's fun, cousin. You know the one who's always wearing the flouncy party dress?

I did have a few problems with this book though. The main character, Grace, is a servant in the Hartford house and is always slightly distanced from the action. She has her own story which would have been fascinating to read about, but the story did not focus on her. She was the narrator for another family's drama. My main issue with this was that she always seemed disconnected from the story she was telling. She didn't know all the details, which can work it just didn't work as well as it could in this case.

My feelings of annoyance with Grace could also be traced to her feelings of servitude long after the passing of the Edwardian era. She never shook her roots despite accomplishing amazing things in her life and always felt somewhat beholden to the family upstairs. It could just be my twenty-first century perspective that caused problems, maybe I was just unable to empathize as I needed to because of my own prejudices, but it was still a problem in my mind. 

Grace's story was interesting on its own. The feelings of a house and then ladies maid as the world was beginning to change and change rapidly. A girl caught between the old ways and the modern times. Hannah, the woman whom she served, was also very interesting. Her story too worthy of its own book. However, the two of them together was, on occasion, a little much. This was mainly because Grace was telling both stories. I would have loved to have more of Hannah's perspective on her own story. This narrative style worked better as the action progressed and the mystery was kept because Grace knew so little. It also had me shaking my head at the era's manners and norms. It was definitely an interesting choice that panned out in the end, even though it irked me at the beginning. So it was really a mixed bag. 

The mystery itself was intriguing and I was left gaping at the horrors of World War One as I am every time I read something about this era. War and glory contrasted with the pain and suffering those serving felt; knowing what happens to the soldiers before they do is chilling. I know it's a fictional book, but what can I say? War gets to me. 

I was entranced by this book despite its flaws. I loved the mystery and the romance. Most of all I loved the historical setting. I know I spent most of this review picking holes in the story, but Grace and Hannah were both such interesting characters. I just wished we could know more about each of them. I would pick up another one of Morton's books in an instant. In fact, next time I go to the library, I think I will. 

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