Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

house at rivertonThis was a random find in an Oxfam bookshop in Chester – one of those buys where you look at the front cover (I must admit this didn’t really draw me in), scrutinise the blurb, scan a couple of pages and you’re still not absolutely sure… but it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read all year, so well worth the £4 that I paid!  

A Sense of Impending Doom

Morton cleverly weaves a tale of past and present, introducing the main character, Grace Bradley, as both the elderly lady looking back over her long life, and her younger self: a naïve maidservant, curious about the rich world she gets to observe and oblivious of the horrific secret which will one day be hers to keep. The sense of impending doom carries the reader along, with the final, awful truth only revealed at the very last moment. Grace’s secret fascination with Sherlock Holmes adds another layer to the story, as she becomes a character in her very own murder mystery.

“Oh, no; it’s fascinating,” Ursula said. “A rising star of the English poetry scene kills himself by a dark lake on the eve of a huge society party. His only witnesses are two beautiful sisters who never speak to each other again. One his fiancée, the other rumoured to be his lover. It’s terribly romantic.”

A World of Observation and Memories

The novel also provides a fantastically detailed insight into the mindset of a servant girl living and working in the nineteenth century – someone who expects little from life and is content, at least to begin with, to play the role of the observer, looking on whilst others enjoy life’s experiences. Alongside this, we have a sensitive exploration of old age, as the older Grace finds herself becoming less able and more reliant on the help of others, whilst also slipping into a world of memories which seem to become more real than the world in which she now lives.

When I eventually passed this book on to my Mum, (as I do with most books that I enjoy) it turned out that she had just finished Morton’s second novel, The Forgotten Garden, so naturally that became the next book on my list, and you can read my review of it here.

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