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, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces. -From The House at Riverton, page 271-
Grace Bradley is 98 years old and living out her final days in a rest home, when she receives a letter from a film maker who requests her assistance in providing information about a family, a house, and the death of a poet. Grace goes back in time, mining long forgotten stories about the Hartford family, especially Hannah and Emmeline and David – the children who became young adults and carried their secrets to the grave. As a servant for the Hartfords, Grace’s memories are those captured in shadowy corners and whispered intimacies – creating the gothic mood of the novel. Swirling with family secrets and mysteries and set amongst the privileged of English society at the turn of the century, Kate Morton’s debut novel: The House At Riverton, is an enormously readable book…one that kept me compulsively turning the pages.
I found Morton’s novel to be similar to another gothic tale I loved: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. Both books are peopled by sisters (one named Emmeline) and an elderly woman who holds their secrets. The house itself, with its dark rooms and extensive gardens, becomes a character in its own right.
Thematically, The House at Riverton explores the effect of war on relationships, the tenuous threads of memory, and family secrets. Morton’s writing is captivating and her character development and dialog are spot on. She provides plenty of suspense and foreshadowing in her prose, and even though I figured out at least one of the mysteries early on, it did not ruin the book for me. The House at Riverton is a spellbinding, moody book which is perfect for winter reading next to a crackling fire and with a cup of tea at hand. I got my copy from Barnes and Noble’s First Look Program. The novel is set for release in April 2008.