The House at Riverton tells the story of a wealthy family's descent into chaos, but it's also the story of one young woman's witness to the changing tides of society, from the time of World War II to the gilded 1920's to modern day Britain. Grace, born to a former housemaid and single mother in disgrace, takes her first post as a staff member at the Riverton Manor at age fourteen. The manor itself soon comes to life with the arrival of the Master's grandchildren and their widowed father. Grace finds herself enraptured by the children, but especially by the eldest sister, Hannah. Hannah Hartford is headstrong in a time when women were meant to be more demure and prim, and she feels trapped by the opulent lifestyle that accompanies her family's wealth. Decades later, Grace's memories of her time at Riverton resurface after she is contacted by a director looking to make a film about the mysterious incident that cast Riverton and the Hartford family into a dark shadow. Told from the perspective of Grace at the age of ninety-eight, as well as flashbacks of her time working for the Hartfords, the The House at Riverton feels like a story haunted by a ghostly, secretive past.
I picked this book up from the library recently and fell head over heels for it. I know that this sub-genre of wealthy, aristocratic families set in war-torn Britain can sometimes feel a bit tired, but this was one story that I could not put down. I loved that there was more than one secret waiting to be revealed by the events in the story, and though I had my suspicions, I still found myself in suspense. I read another book by this author in high school, and it was one of my favorites that year (it also has really high ratings on Goodreads!), so I was anticipating that I would enjoy this book as well. I haven't yet indulged myself in Downton Abbey, but I have a feeling that fans of the show will love this story. Grace was my favorite character, and I loved the idea that she went from a simple housemaid at fourteen to an extremely accomplished archeologist and academic before retiring to a nursing home. She was a witness to so much history and such big changes in society, but I think she simply longed to be back in a place with the person that she most cared for, and that the strings that tied her to Riverton were compelling and unique. Both Grace and the Hartford's have their fair share of secrets and demons, but I think the story has more heart when it comes from the perspective of the help rather than the privileged.
Bottom Line Rating: 5/5
Title: The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Publisher: Macmillan Pan Books, 2007
Source: Public Library