Having liked The Forgotten Garden, I decided to check out Kate Morton’s first novel, The House atRiverton. Maybe the success of the second – making it to the NY Times best list – would rub off – like other authors who have the second hit, and then have readers backtrack – like Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill…
Morton’s first novel has her familiar penchant for secrets, as well as her Gothic style. The characters reveal themselves more slowly in this one, and the story seems a cross between The Thirteenth Tale and Atonement.
Grace is 98 years old when she is interviewed for a documentary about Riverton, the house where she served as a young maid for Hannah, daughter of a wealthy and established family in pre World War I Britain. From casual conversations, it’s clear that Grace has had a good life since then, and yearns to see her grandson, a writer, once more before she dies.
She tells her story as she dictates into a tape recorder, reminiscing and setting the record straight about her employers and a final confrontation that has made the house a legend. You might think you suspect her secret, but the ending is a whopper, and uses shorthand (Gregg was invented in 1888) as the device.
This is post-Victoria England – upstairs/downstairs British families, two world wars, money made and lost, secret lovers, and, of course, scandalous secrets – whispered in the scullery – an upscale soap opera – juicy and fun to read.