The House at Riverton is the story of 98 year old Grace Bradley and is told through a series of flashbacks. It is a story of the classes, the loyal servant class and the idle rich, and the changes to the English class system from Edwardian times through two world wars and into the present.
In 1914, Grace Bradley came to Riverton Manor as a 14 year old housemaid. Hers was the life of dutiful and selfless service to the Hartford family. There was a fierce loyalty to the family shared by the servants at Riverton creating a "downstairs" camaraderie. In fact, a real "Upstairs, Downstairs" feeling permeates the book. During her early years of service, Grace's life becomes forever linked with those of the Hartford grandchildren Hannah, Emmeline, and David.
One of the key events and that which really drives the story and binds the past to the present, is a tragedy that occurred during a lavish house party at Riverton in 1924. This tragedy forever changed the lives of those involved and continues to haunt Grace. Grace has remained loyal to the Hartford family and has never divulged the true events of that long ago night. Grace knows she will not live much longer and, as she is the only living person who knows what really happened, decides to narrate her story onto tape recordings that she sends to her grandson.
The House at Riverton is Kate Morton's debut novel and, as such, has a lot to recommend it. Her writing captured the Edwardian class system and the difficulties experienced by the characters as this system faded away and they struggled to find their new "place" in society. I truly enjoyed the way the past haunted the present. The author did seem to lose some steam though about two thirds of the way through the book and character development suffered. One thing in particular disappointed me. Several characters returned from military service, in the Great War, with shell shock. This condition was pivotal to the events and ending of the book, yet it was merely mentioned and the characters with shell shock unsympathetic and two dimensional. A bit remiss of the author to gloss over something so pivotal.
I have Morton's next novel, The Forgotten Garden, on my stack of books to read and I am looking forward to it. I'm hoping the author just gets better with time and experience.
Rating: 3.5 of 5