Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

I'm not sure why, but it feels like it took a really long time to get though my latest listen 'The House at Riverton" - about three weeks to get through nineteen hours of audiobook - definitely off my normal pace of one book a week. A combination of many things - taking a breather after "Distant Hours", having company on road trips to train (and not subjecting them to the middle third of my audiobook) and taking the entire month of December off from agility trials. The long duration listen was not a statement on the quality of the book, or the storyline - rather a statement on the chaos that is December.

The House at Riverton is the middle-child of author Kate Morton. Published after "The Forgotten Garden" and prior to "The Distant Hours". The three novels are not related and can be read in any order (unlike my "Camel Club" debacle of 2009).
The audible "Publishers Summary"  doesn't really do the novel justice  on so many levels - nevertheless it's as follows:

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, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken, and 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.
Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.
Unlike Ms. Morton's other two novels the storyline for Riverton does not leap back and forth between time periods dramatically...As the summary hints - there is one storyteller in "The House at Riverton" - young Grace. I can imagine a dignified young woman - the young Miss Grace (reference there to the brit-com "Are You Being Served"), starting out as a housemaid at the tender age of fourteen - why and for whom becomes clear towards the end of the novel. Grace's life has so much unsaid regret - of opportunities not taken - of things that went unspoken and kept as secrets for too long. Grace's devotion to Hannah, her loyalty to the manor and her own personal sacrifices.

Like "The Distant Hours", the storyline is somewhat slow to ramp, but I found the characters easier to love and empathize with - even early on in the novel - perhaps that was due to Grace. The real meat of the novel is the last 4 hours of the audiobook, when the pieces quickly fall into place...some of those pieces were a complete plot surprise - which I always appreciate - I don't like knowing the answers before the author has worked them out.

Caroline Lee is one of my new favorite narrators...it'll be weird to start a new book without her...and I haven't yet decided what that next book ought to be.

The House at Riverton was written by Kate Morton and published by Bolinda Publishing. Audible release date was January 12th, 2007. The House at Riverton is narrated by Caroline Lee and has an unabridged running time of 18 hours 52 minutes.

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