Thursday, April 10, 2008

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

My rating 4 stars, simply because I can't up it by 1/2.
I feel that the book was somewhat predictable, but well researched, and entertaining. A rare handling of the subject. My congratulations to Kate Morton for a uniquely handled novel that covers a lot more ground than would appear at a quick glance (not that anyone should consider a quick glance!)

This book is a gently-told narrative that brings the reader into the Edwardian period and takes us right through into the 1920s, with all its changes in society and mores. Living through the eyes of Grace, our narrator at the age of 98, the story comes alive. It is 1999 and her memories are awakened by Ursula, whose project is to tell the story of the House at Riverton to be featured in a film, reflecting on the historical significance of the family and household. Grace agrees to be interviewed about her recollections of life with the prestigious Ashbury family, against the wishes of her caretaker/companion Sylvia.

At the urging of her mother, Grace is hired on as a housemaid in this home to Lords and Ladies prior to WWI. The staff is fairly close-knit and she is treated well. There are three children related to the family visiting when she arrives and she forms a bond of sorts with them, in particular with Hannah, a rather independent young lady.

Grace tells the tale of the many unexpected but ceaseless changes (some very surprising) through her long life through the eyes of remembrance. But there is always a feeling of something not quite right as the story unfolds with an ongoing background of secrets untold and misunderstood. Our storyteller is one of the very few remaining witnesses to this history alive. She tells her story between brief interviews with Ursula, producer of the film, with whom she bonds and whose visits she begins to look forward to as time goes on. Between these interludes her story is told in word pictures of her mind, her memories become alive and she takes us with her. The two daughters of the original family are inextricably entwined with the life of Grace throughout. There is no difficulty in knowing when she is in the present and when she is in the past.

Everything is here, romance, missed opportunities, casualties of war (physically and psychologically) at a time when very little is known to help these victims, old-wealth class, rebellion against the place of women, and more, but there is something more human than we find in the usual Edwardian/Victorian era historical books, and always the hidden secrets are lurking about. It is a well-rounded book and an enjoyable read.

No comments: