The Heroine: Grace Reeves, a former maid to the aristocratic Hartford sisters at the beginning of the twentieth century. Told from her death bed in present day, Grace reveals the secrets she had kept for her charges, wise and restless Hannah and the glittering socialite Emmeline, by recording her story on tape for her grandson. Loyal, self-sacrificing and kind, Grace recounts a story of mystery, romance and suspense that brings England in the era of war, tradition and sparkling parties to life.
The Highs: I simply love Kate Morton's way with words. Her prose is gorgeous, both simple enough to understand and descriptive enough to suck you in and enrapture you in her universe. She also has a great understanding of suspense; the way she slowly unfolds the story, revealing a little at a time, keeps you from putting down her books. For a debut novel, The House at Riverton is a piece of spectacular writing.
I adore her characters, specifically the sisters Hannah and Emmeline. The character of Hannah is written so realistically, with a juxtaposition of being both duty-bound and restless for change. Hannah's competing values make her unpredictable and exciting to read about. Emmeline, on the other hand, is fascinating in her slow decline to delusions. Both characters are the kind of beautiful, charismatic, tragic heroines that ignite my imagination.
The historical detail included in The House at Riverton give every location, setting and event a very vibrant sense of authenticity, so important in writing a historical drama. Not only is every gas lamp, petticoat and kid glove in place, but the novel also uses real historical events, such as World War I and the beginning of the Jazz Age, and thoughts, like worker's unions and socialism, to shape each characters perspective and view on the world. Furthermore, this book is written in the true Gothic tradition, the type of story popular in the Victorian era, including the English country manor, the haunted characters, the intersecting of the present with the past... Overall, a beautiful and haunting read whether or not you're a history buff.
The Lows: I felt the novel could have been made even better if the evolution of Hannah and Emmeline's relationship from close sisters to competitors would have been given more attention. I feel that Emmeline's thoughts, emotions and actions were made too subtle to notice, until suddenly the climax of the story pops up. I would have enjoyed spending more time reading about Emmeline. It would have made the sense of impending doom, suspense and unpredictability more dramatic.
I also would have felt more closure with the story if Grace's relation to the Hartford's would have been more solidified, though I understand why the story turned out the way it did. Since I enjoyed this book so much, it's hard to find anything wrong with it beside nit-pickity annoyances.
Final Thoughts: The House at Riverton is a must-read, no matter what type of fiction you enjoy.
Rating: The House at Riverton deserves nine shorthand letters out of ten.
Buy 'The House at Riverton' on Amazon here
Connect with author Kate Morton here
Photo by Charlotte Rutherford, found here
NEXT UP: A review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLean