Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Friday, November 3, 2017
Title: The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: historical, gothic, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 483
Published: 2006
Source: purchased
Rating: 4.5/5

Grace Bradley was just a girl when she began working as a servant at Riverton House. For years, her life was inextricably tied with the glamorous and eccentric Hartford family's daughters, Hannah and Emmeline. At a glittering society party in the summer of 1924, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline. Only they - and Grace - know the dark truth.

Many years later, when Grace is living in a nursing home, she receives a visit from a young director making a film about the events of that summer. The director takes Grace to Riverton House and reawakens memories of the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege, of the vibrant twenties, and of a stunning secret Grace kept all her life.

A vivid, page-turning tale of suspense and passion, "The House At Riverton" is marked by indelible characters and a breathtaking ending that readers won't soon forget.

Morton's debut is impressive; a near-flawless introduction to the complex convolutions of her plots and intertwined character histories that soon become her hallmark as an author. The House at Riverton is an atmospheric and gothic favorite, covering various themes such as the shifting nature of history, the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy of English service during Edwardian times, how the past informs the present, how secrets can and will surface, as well as the unreliable nature of memory. Morton ably ties all the loose threads and various themes of her story into a comprehensive, clever dual-timeline narrative whose picture becomes ever-clearer as Grace dictates key events.

It's a book that's defined as much by its locations as its people; the setting of the Hartford ancestral manor at Riverton is as much a character as any person and is also a central component of both timelines that make up the narrative. Using her evocative backdrop to literally loom over Grace, Hannah, Emme and Robbie from the first time they meet, Morton subtly weaves a backstory of tragedy leading up to the mysterious events of 1924.

The plot that unfolds slowly and perfectly at the heart of the The House at Riverton centers on two sisters; their rivalries, their secrets, their often tested familial bond. Both Hannah and Emme are fully three-dimensional beings; each with a past that informs their future and sets themselves at cross-purposes to one another in one chapter and and aligns them as allies in the next. Their relationship is pivotal and ever-evolving as the secrets and half-truths that make up their lives are uncovered. The way the finale crescendos into an inevitable, but still clever and unexpected, finale makes this another Morton masterpiece. 

A master storyteller from the first, and one with a considerable talent for crafting real, complex, misguided characters, Kate Morton's first novel is haunting and unforgettable. The emotions it creates and the characters it gave voice linger long after the last page is read.


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