Kate Morton: The House At Riverton

The House At Riverton is Australian author Kate Morton’s excellent debut novel. Morton’s writing is beautifully intelligent without weighing down the momentum of the cinematic plot, which revisits the scandalous past of the wealthy Ashbury family in the years preceding and following World War I. The book captures the wartime drama and family secrets of Atonement as well as the spectacular, romantic 1920s atmosphere of The Great Gatsby, and mixes in the English country estate, class divides, and gossip of Gosford Park.

In the manner of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Morton’s The House At Riverton begins in the twilight years of its protagonist and travels back through her memories to examine the dramatic and heartwrenching past. In the present, 98 year old Grace is asked to share memories of her youthful servitude at Riverton Manor for a film based on the apparent suicide of a poet on the grounds of the estate.

Though the events surrounding the poet’s death are by far the most interesting parts of the story, they really only come into focus in the final third of the book. The majority of the novel centers on Grace’s humble life as a servant and her bird’s eye view of the vivid Ashbury sisters. The emotion Morton evokes from her characters keeps the pages turning until the tension begins to build and the climatic death scene finally arrives.

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