The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

“Last November I had a nightmare.  It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again”

The book starts off with that sentence and it sort of reminded me of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier that started off with “Last night I dreamt  I went to Manderley again” which is one of my favourite novels.

The House at Riverton is Kate Morton’s first novel and won the Richard & Judy summer read in 2007 (source: wikipedia and book cover).  I read her second novel, The Forgotten Garden first before I read this one and after finishing that novel, I loved it so much I just wanted to get my hands on more of Kate’s books.

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The story is about the 98 year old Grace Bradley, who used to be a maid at Riverton during the 1920’s where she met the Riverton grandchildren:  David, Hannah and Emmeline. The opening line, about her having a nightmare about being at Riverton again, comes directly after a film maker had contacted Grace for an interview. Grace is the only remaining person alive that was at Riverton that night when a well-known poet, Robbie Hunter shot himself. She, Hannah and Emmeline were witnesses to the unfortunate incident that happened during a society party that was held at Riverton that night. Grace and Hannah developed a friendship during the time that Grace worked at Riverton as a maid and later as a ‘lady’s maid’ for Hannah after she got married.  The novel tells the story of the life at Riverton, the various characters, the world war II, the unfortunate deaths – and there were many – that struck the Hardfort family.  Grace never knew her father and with her mother constantly reminding her how she almost gave her up for adoption, she had always longed to have a family or a sister and she found that in Hannah. She would have done anything to protect Hannah – including keeping  secret what really happened that night when Robbie killed himself. For years Grace has lived with guilt, not because of the secret she kept, but because of the role she played in the tragedy.  All will be revealed at the end of the book, but leading up to it, the story I find to be quite interesting and captivating.

The reason I give bits and pieces around the contents of the book and the story line (as you have noticed in all my reviews) is that I prefer to write a review on a book and NOT an overview. If you like my thoughts on a book then I would not like to spoil it for you by telling you exactly what happen.  I did not like this book as much as I like The Forgotten Garden, however it was a good read, another easy read.  The mystery aspect of this book wasn’t as good as Forgotten Garden, yet it was still a very enjoyable book to read especially after I needed a break from historical novels. Grace does eventually find out who her father is and I worked that out long before Kate revealed it in her book, so that one was quite predictable. However I am embarrassed to say that I did not quite expect the ending of what happened the night Robbie died. Here is a spoiler and if you don’t want to read it skip the red text…

Robbie didn’t commit suicide, however the person I THOUGHT killed him, didn’t. It was… someone totally unexpected (gasp!)  – to ME at least.

There was a comical moment for me in the book and I want to share it, because it was so funny.  Hannah and Emmeline were discussing being in love and getting married. To Emmeline, the hopeless romantic, all that seems to be the “be it all” in life, while Hannah strives to be independent in a time when it was expected for women to be at home, be a lady and having to depend on a man.  It goes like this:

Hannah: “Marriage isn’t just about having a handsome man to dance with. There is a lot more to it”

Emmeline: “ Like what?”

Hannah: “Private things. Intimacies

Emmeline: “Oh. Intimacies. Poor Fanny”

 (Fanny is a friend of theirs who recently got married and is on honey moon at the time of this conversation)

Hannah: *Silence*

Emmeline: “Hannah, what are intimacies, exactly?”

Hannah: “I…well…They’re expressions of love. Quite pleasant, I believe, with a man with whom you’re passionately in love; unthinkably distasteful with anyone else” (Quoted from The House at Riverton, Kate Morton. Page 200)

LOL!!! Ok, so you can see how much laughter I got out of that one 😉

On a more serious note, another favourite quote from this book is:

“Better to loose oneself in action than to wither in despair”

Have you tried this book before?

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  • I still need to pick up one of her books!!!! 🙂

  • Mel

    You should!! 🙂

  • Les

    Thanks for the lovely review. I love the fact that a maid developed a close relationship with one of the grandchildren. Being friends with maids almost never happened in that era. My to-read list is ever growing…

    • Mel

      And that’s a good thing! There’s quite a few books I need to give you still. My sister’s got the 2 books by Kate Morton, but she’s a fast reader.

  • I liked The House at Riverton but the uncanny resemblance with Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin was too much. Either Morton had read Atwood’s or what a coincidence. Having said that, I do like Kate Morton and really enjoyed her last book, The Secret Keeper.

    • Mel

      I haven’t read The Blind Assassin yet. Thanks for pointing that out – I might want to read it now that you are pointing out the resemblance. I must still read The Secret Keeper too.

      Thanks for stopping by Elena!

    • Gina

      I TOTALLY agree with you. I’m a huge Kate Morton’s fan, but somehow I ended up reading this one last from all her books. And just when I get ready to enjoy another one of the characteristic KM exquisit novels, I found myself reading The Blind Assassin all over again (a couple differences here and there). I even had to go back to check the years they were both released, b eing convinced one must have taken her ideas through the other. This is definitely not my KM favorite, though she’s still a wonderful writer! (Just a little bit dissapointed by this…)

      • You’d be surprised how many people don’t see the similarities…

        • Gina

          Really??? I think we can come up with quite a long list of them.

  • This is one of my favorites by Kate Morton… I <3 her work!

    • Mel

      I recently discovered her work and I read her first two. Loved it too 🙂

      I’m actually currently reading her third book. Thanks for stopping by xx

  • I love Kate Morton! One of these days, Love at First Book will get around to reading her!

    • Mel

      She’s been promising us! {The proof is on both of my Kate Morton posts}
      I can’t wait to hear her thoughts though

  • I read this one a few months ago and enjoyed it, though it had parts that lagged a bit for me. I preferred The Secret Keeper–don’t know if you’ve read that one of hers yet but I recommend it!

    • Mel

      I read The Forgotten Garden but not Secret Keeper yet. I am currently reading ‘Distant Hours’, so I might pick up secret keeper soon afterwards! As you can see I’m quite on a Kate Morton roll here 😉

      Thanks for stopping by & for commenting

  • I really like Kate Morton’s writing, and this book in particular. I take your point about not providing summaries – it all depends on what you want your review to achieve. I don’t really evaluate books on my site because the purpose is to recommend excellent books – if I’ve put it on there, it’s already passed my filter. But when I reviewed for the newspaper and a book review publication, the goal was to assess everything that crossed the desk. The beauty of the blog format is that you can o
    make it be whatever you want. I really like your take and look forward to reading more of your evaluations,

    • Thanks for the kind words, Naomi. I agree with you, that you can do whatever you want when you blog. Sometimes it’s not the same when reviewing books for other publications etc. The approach is all yours, whether you want to be formal or informal. I choose to be something inbetween 🙂

      Currently following you, so I will look out for your reviews as well. Thanks for stopping by

  • I really like Kate Morton. Like you I started with The Forgotten Garden then moved to The House at Riverton. I think my favourite by her is probably The Distant Hours though.

    • I am currently reading The Distant Hours. Let’s hope I like it as much as I did The Forgotten Garden!

      Thanks for stopping by, Lucy.

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  • I am reading this book now, and I like it, but I don’t love it. I think I see too many similarities to too many other novels I read (one you have already pointed out here), so it all feels a bit been there done that.

    I already guessed one of the mysteries and I am 99% sure I have guessed correctly ;). The other one, I hope surprises me.

    • Similarities to her other work, or books by other authors? I am considering reading The Secret Keeper… I liked this one, loved The Forgotten Garden, but I was a bit bored by The Distant Hours…

      • @Melinda: similarities to books by other authors. I haven’t read any of her other books.

        • Care to share? 🙂

          • @Melinda: I found the butler in the book very similar to that guy in Remains of the Day, the general flow of the story itself seems to be similar to many gothic fiction books I read during my teens – I can’t remember the books as such. While reading the book, it just feels very familiar. I can’t put my finger on it though.

  • I’ve loved all of Kate Morton’s books but after The Forgotten Garden my favourite was The Secret Keeper… Unlike many who write use the dual time-line device, I think the characters in both past and present are equally interesting.