Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper

Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper is truly a page turner. It’s a rather thick hardback (yes, I still read actual books!), so I was shocked to finish reading it in one weekend.

Morton, author of The House at Riverton, is one of my favorite modern authors. She has a knack for writing prose that is beautifully descriptive and somewhat flowery, but light enough to keep a flowing pace. This is especially true of the very suspenseful The Secret Keeper.

While time-shifting chapters between two generations has become quite a popular construct in contemporary fiction, The Secret Keeper is the rare novel whose two worlds and two protagonists are equally interesting and fully developed.

The central story focuses on the life of Laurel Nicolson, an aging actress who witnessed a disturbing event in her childhood and has kept it a secret from her siblings ever since. No, this is nothing like Atonement. The event happens in chapter one, but it’s a riveting scene I won’t spoil for you. As adult Laura delves into the mysterious history leading up to that event, we are transported back to her mother’s youth.

Laura’s mother, Dorothy, shares equal billing in this tale. She’s a very complex, very human character — at times unlikable, at times sympathetic. Morton deftly takes us back and forth from the blitz of WWII-era London through the 1960’s and into the modern age, weaving a universe of mystery and suspense all along the way. Again, I don’t wish to spoil the story. It’s so well designed and executed that, for once, the twist at the end took me completely by surprise.

I hadn’t planned on doing a Best Books list this year, but The Secret Keeper may be the motivation I need to do just that.


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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