Wednesday, July 02, 2008

New Release Spotlight: The House at Riverton

The House at Riverton
Kate Morton

Kate Morton’s first novel, new to the U.S. market but previously a critical and popular success in England and in her native Australia, kept my fingers turning pages till midnight and my brain happily restless with its revelations till long after that.

Told mostly in flashbacks by Grace Bradley, a ninety-eight-year-old whose memories of her time as a housekeeper and lady’s maid for the Hartford family in early-1900s England are reawakened by a researching filmmaker, this book oozes over its edges, stopping not at its main story but rounding out its ancillary ones so that the reader truly finds satisfaction in the full ending. It is a successful blend of historical fiction—in which characters are enhanced by, and not made only of, details of dress, avocation, and occupation (in fact, Morton seems to poke a bit of fun at the “life” that history is usually given, when Grace goes on a Disney-fied tour of the manor she once worked in)—and of intrigue, at the end of which the suspense really pays out for the reader, in both heartbreak and horror.

Morton is a skillful writer—she gracefully captures the dread present-day Grace feels when she hears her own voice—“[Mine] was the voice of age: faint, worn, almost invisible. A pale ribbon, frayed so that only brittle threads survive. Only the merest flecks of me, my real voice, the one I hear in my head and in my dreams.” Just as seemingly effortlessly, she conveys humor, as when older sister Hannah Hartford works to convince younger sister Emmeline that the latter has the choicer part in a family play, even though Hannah is God and Emmeline is leprous Miriam.

If anything could be improved, it’s the pacing and amount of details given during acquaintance Robbie Hunter’s return to the Hartfords’ lives, but that’s a minor quibble. Morton has the reader from her first line—“Last November I had a nightmare”—through her last—“I know how good you are with secrets.” Nothing—including closing the book and turning off the light—will change that.

Book Review by Kristin Thiel, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN: 978-1-4165-5051-8
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub Date: April 2008
Hardcover: $24.95

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