the house at riverton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kate Morton came into my life just under 3 years ago. I don’t remember how, but I picked up one of her books and absolutely fell in love with her writing style, characters, and multi-dimensional storytelling abilities. After almost 3 years, I’ve finished reading all 6 of her books; it’s a tad amusing that the last one I read is actually the first book she wrote — The House at Riverton, or The Shifting Fog, as it was previously known. For me, she’s the queen of historical fiction when the focus is on ‘ordinary’ families in a world from ~ a century ago. The House at Riverton is no exception, and while not my favorite of her tomes, is quite a splendid novel very reminiscent of Downtown Abbey.
In this book, Grace is ~100 years old and dying very soon. She has a story and a secret about the past to tell her wayward grandson who’s gone missing after his wife died of an aneurysm. Through flashbacks and other POVs, we learn about Grace’s time as a maid and ladies maid in the Hartford family household. We witness conversations in the current period between Grace and Ursula, a film director telling the story of what happened when a family friend and renowned poet committed suicide in the 1920s at the Hartford estate. We find out who actually loved whom, and which family members shouldn’t have been trusted. All set against the gorgeous backdrop of the English countryside, it’s a powerful and emotional tale about fighting your desires and knowing when it’s time to give in.
One of the things that made this book so appealing is how similar it was to Downton Abbey. There’s a family torn apart by war. Girls cannot inherit their father’s estate. Love between classes is forbidden. Estates cost too much. A daughter must marry into a wealthy family to survive. But then it goes off on its own path with a murder, an affair, and a past indiscretion connecting two people who never knew until it was too late. Morton can weave the most elaborate stories to warm the heart. I feel such passion and connection with her words and imagery. I can think of no other author who evokes such lyrical enthusiasm and despair in a scene on multiple levels that overwhelm you and excite you at the same time.
While a majority of this book is amazing, there were a few areas that I struggled with… hence 4 stars. The beginning is a bit too slow; it takes time to develop characters, but Morton uses a few different techniques to foreshadow what’s to come in the future almost crossing that invisible line with audience. For example, there’s a paragraph ending a chapter that actually speaks to readers saying, “You think she should have done this, but no, instead, she does this… and this is why what happens to her later was so painful.” I paraphrased to not give away any spoilers, but you get the basics. Another concern I had was how certain storylines were left too open-ended for my taste. We know two characters re-connect 40 years later, but how / why. We know there was a blood relationship between two characters, but was it ever acknowledged? We know one character leaves a letter to another, but what happened with the gift she also left behind? Who was Lady Clementine and how did she fit into this family?
Some of those were loosely explained, but with a powerhouse like Morton, I expect everything to be properly tied together. I’m okay with vague, but there needs to be some clarity on what the ‘options’ are as opposed to just making a statement and never exploring the follow-thru aspects. That said, this doesn’t happen in her later books, so I think these were debut author style changes… and definitely ones I’m glad she eventually made. All said, it’s a must read. The book is slower than others, with less of a major climax, but fully immersive and extravagant in other ways. I am sad that it’ll be at least another year before her next one…
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For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge –and multiple Readathons. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.