Summary and book reviews of The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton

A Novel

by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2008, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2009, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

The House at Riverton is a gorgeous debut novel set in England between the wars. It is the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they -- and Grace -- know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets -- some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

Originally published to critical acclaim in Australia, already sold in ten countries and a #1 bestseller in England, The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters -- and an ending -- the reader won't soon forget.

First published in Australia as The Shifting Fog.

GHOSTS STIR

Last November I had a nightmare.

It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again. All the doors hung wide open, silk billowing in the summer breeze. An orchestra perched high on the hill beneath the ancient maple, violins lilting lazily in the warmth. The air rang with pealing laughter and crystal, and the sky was the kind of blue we'd all thought the war had destroyed forever. One of the footmen, smart in black and white, poured champagne into the top of a tower of glass flutes and everyone clapped, delighting in the splendid wastage.

I saw myself, the way one does in dreams, moving amongst the guests. Moving slowly, much more slowly than one can in life, the others a blur of silk and sequins.

I was looking for someone.

Then the picture changed and I was near the summer house, only it wasn't the summer house at Riverton -- it couldn't have been. This was not the shiny new building Teddy had designed, but an old structure with ivy climbing the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you think of The House at Riverton as a tragic novel? How are the characters' tragic outcomes caused by the incompatibility of what they want and who they are?

  2. How important to the novel's outcome is Grace's longing for a sister? When Grace finds out about her true parentage, why does she choose not to tell Hannah? Is it the right decision? Would things have ended differently had she done otherwise?

  3. Kate Morton has said that the novel's setting is as important to her as its characters, that Riverton Manor is as much a character of the book as its inhabitants. Do you agree? Does Riverton mirror the fates of the Hartford family and the aristocracy in general? If so, in what ways?

  4. The First World War was a catalyst for enormous ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While other reviewers have faulted The House at Riverton for being slow moving I think it moves along at just the right pace. In order to get to know Grace in all her complexity the plot couldn't be rushed. Peering, as we do, into her memories gives us a thorough understanding of where she has been, how she has evolved and who she currently is. It also establishes motivation for the actions of the people she summons up from her past. In the end I was glad to have become acquainted with Grace Reeves and a little sad that I would never get the chance to meet her face-to-face.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (508 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal - Joy St. John

Intriguing characters, both past and present, are skillfully drawn to create an enjoyable tale.

Kirkus Reviews

Though the climactic revelation feels contrived, Morton's characters and their predicaments are affecting, and she recreates the period with a sure hand.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Morton triumphs with a riveting plot, a touching but tense love story and a haunting ending.

Sydney Morning Herald - Amanda Hooton

The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton is a hard novel to assess. Its story of an English aristocratic family in terminal decline (surely not) is mildly interesting and competently structured. In fact, it all seems a bit too easy: the sort of novel that you or I could write, if only we had the time and the incentive and a reliable home computer. This, of course, is utterly unfair. It may not be great art, but Morton has written it and we have not. She researched and struggled and sweated and got the job done while we were out having coffee and talking about it; and so she deserves every penny and every red carpet that comes her way. (The House at Riverton was first published in Australia as The Shifting Fog, but was renamed for its 2007 publication in the UK.

Reader Reviews

Jossarne

Excellent Read
She does an excellent job of interweaving the story. I love her books!

SAM

The (Re)Birth of a Nation - Sort of
This is a book that explores a world of different things skillfully and enjoyably. It's also a welcome change from the plethora of books that seem to written so copies can be sold to book club members. It actually has some substance. The setting ...   Read More

Rachael

Amazing
I don't think i have ever been as drawn into a book as i was with The House at Riverton. at night I found myself thinking about Grace and what she would do next. Kate Morton is such a brilliant writer she truly does have a gift. as soon as I ...   Read More

radodd

Blown Away!
I was truly blown away by this author. Morton takes you though the English countryside and inside the main character's head. It's amazing where you find yourself in this book. Each twist is not expected. I didn't see any of it coming, and then at...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The British Class System
As she mentions in her notes at the end of the book, the whole concept of nobility and servant classes fascinates Morton. I think many people who aren't familiar with such a strict class system,  notably Americans and Australians like Morton,  are also intrigued by the thought that there could have been a ...

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