GENRE: historical fiction/family drama
Summer 1924. On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Winter 1999. Grace Bradley, ninety-eight, one-time housemaid at Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and old memories – long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind – begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
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From the beginning of the novel, it is made known that Grace Bradley has a secret that’s been haunting her for so long and it is hinted at the fact that her secret is related to the suicide of poet R.S. Hunter in 1924. When a young director wants to make a movie about the poet’s death, she asks Grace to help her with any information she has about that night and that brings back memories. I already felt suspense at that point in the novel, and it was only the beginning. I could just feel that something big would be revealed in the end.
Slowly, Grace reveals to the reader the story of her life, in particular the time when she was a young housemaid at Riverton. She describes the family, her connection to the sisters Hannah and Emmeline, and shares their stories as well. The sisters kept secrets, and Grace also had her own secrets. One little lie told by Grace to one of the sisters, one truly innocent lie, causes a lot of damage. When the consequences of the lie unfold, and together with it Grace’s big secret, everything is quite shocking. The climax of the novel is really powerful and suspenseful, and there is no trace of catharsis in sight. On one hand, I was happy to know the secret at last, but on the other hand, I was a bit devastated because the revelation brought no atonement for anyone, especially for Grace.
The events in the 1920s affected Grace’s life, and this shows also in the present. Grace has a strained relationship with her daughter and it seems that she doesn’t really want to let anyone close to her heart, as it’s already so broken already. The author really describes the events from the past well and in flowing details, but her focus on the present is just as intense and detailed. I loved this. Morton juxtaposes the past and the present beautifully.
I really don’t want to say more, for fear of spoilers, but this was a really wonderful read and I consider The House at Riverton as a great novel, one of the best I have read in my life. So yes, it definitely belongs to my top-novels list. The author’s writing style is really engaging and the words always flow smoothly; at times, the writing style is also poetical. I loved the attention Morton paid to details.
It is a modern suspense novel, with elements of mystery. If there is a moral message, then I think that it’s definitely this one: no matter how innocent you think a lie is, its effect is the exact opposite – truly devastating. Guilt is a feeling that is very hard to live with and it makes you feel cold and empty inside, eventually.
This novel reminds me of Atonement by Ian McEwan and, in a sense, of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. If you enjoyed one of these books or both, you’ll definitely like The House at Riverton. It truly is a great book.
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