“It is a cruel, ironical art, photography. The dragging of captured moments into the future; moments that should have been allowed to be evaporate into the past; should exist only in memories, glimpsed through the fog of events that came after. Photographs force us to see people before their future weighed them down….”
Have you ever reread a book you love when you feel in a rut and need an escape from the stresses of daily life? I recently did this with The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. Originally released in 2007 as her debut novel, this enthralling plot simmers with family secrets, doomed love, and the ruthless influences of war to create a beautifully tragic story that will captivate you from the first page to the last.
Set in England and alternating between the historical backdrop of WWI and 1999, ninety-eight-year-old protagonist Grace Bradley relates her past as a young housemaid for an aristocratic family at Riverton Manor as she reaches the end of her life. It isn’t long, however, before you realize this reminiscing is not just for nostalgia’s sake. Upon receiving a visit from a young filmmaker planning to produce a movie about the dramatic and devastating events that eventually befell this renowned family, Grace begins to relive her past and experience her own role in the harrowing affairs that unfolded, tearing open a wound and exacerbating a guilt she has carried her entire life.
These calamitous events began with the apparent suicide of a young poet at Riverton Manor during a summer party in 1924. According to newspapers and official records, the only witnesses were sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, who never spoke to each other again, and the family was seemingly cursed with several additional misfortunes thereafter. What the official records don’t show, however, is that there was a third witness and much more to the story than the public eye will ever know. As Grace tells some of her story to the filmmaker, the biggest secrets of all are only revealed in recordings she makes for her grandson, Marcus, as both grandmother and grandson carry guilt of a tragedy in their lives in which they feel at fault, despite truly extenuating circumstances.
One of the things I love most about Kate Morton’s novels are the ways in which she creates authentically complex characters who display such genuine portrayals of the human condition. While I have read several books with phenomenal character development in the past, Morton does so in such a masterful and poignant way I feel no other author does; this is especially true when considering the innocuous ways in which tragedy strikes in her novels. These tragedies truly create a haunting aura in which characters live with scars and guilt, but also often come full-circle when their struggles are used to help others get through similar hurdles, which often span generations. I also absolutely love the ways in which Morton effortlessly and seamlessly moves back-and-forth in time within her storylines.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-developed fiction with rich, complex character development; historical ties, especially to WWI and the English aristocracy; and a suspenseful, haunting storyline that will leave you guessing until the very last page!
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