24 April 2012
The House at Riverton; Kate Morton
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm probably being a little overly generous with this, but with Downton Abbey still in my mind...
The title is a bit misleading, as Riverton is the name of the house (the village is Saffron Green) and not all the action takes place there. The narrator is Grace, who at 99 is retelling and revisiting her life at Riverton and in service to the Hartford family. The house is infamous in part thanks to the untimely death of a Great War poet, R. S. Hunter; like Thornfield, much had been destroyed in a fire a few years after the shooting.
Grace holds two Big Secrets, her role in Hunter's death and her place in the Hartford family. I'd guessed the latter, but for some reason it's never made clear if anyone in the family actually knows. Her relationship with Hannah, first as chambermaid and then as ladies maid, is strengthened by Hannah's misapprehension that Grace knows shorthand (she doesn't) - thus leading to Hunter's death. Emmeline is one of those Bright Young Things and you never really learn if there's more there than we're being shown. The final Big Secret I'd also guessed, and it was nice to see it confirmed at the tail end of the book (although here, it's unclear that Grace understands the significance of what she's been told).
The book tries to be slightly more Gothic than it ends up being, in part because of the detail and the lengthy set pieces. It's certainly fitting that the final party marks the real end of the Hartford family and Riverton, lorded over by the "recently ennobled" Teddy.