The House at Riverton

-by Kate Morton

a pleasant middling read, but nothing more

In the winter years of her life, 98-year-old Grace looks back on her past. Bound by society's early 20th century conventions as a misbegotten child, 14-year-old Grace was sent to be a servant in the 'big house' at Riverton. Fast-forward to the year 1999 - the production of a film is in progress regarding a tragic death that occurred at the house. The elderly Grace is asked to recollect any snippets of memories that would add to the film's authenticity and thus she begins to recount her memoirs of the event surrounding that time period. She also records more forthright details for her grandson; a final task she sets before herself, prior to her death.

Footslogging at a snail-pace at the outset, any impatience will be appeased when the slow-developing plot gradually quickens, culminating in a somewhat predictable and "tied up neatly with a bow" conclusion. Worthy of note is Morton's obvious research that went into the book and her uncanny ability to evoke the past. The candid glimpse into the sub-hierarchy goings on "below stairs" in the realm of servants, butlers and maids was nothing fresh, but certainly intriguing.

The characters in The House at Riverton failed to resonate, save the elderly narrator, Grace, who was particularly well developed. Grace, alone, had a richness, a realness, that you truly were drawn to - not merely as a geriatric caricature but as a living breathing person that you could almost touch. The ultimate "revelation" about Grace's origins wasn't a surprise. The drawn-out painstaking way this truth was realized by the lead character was irritating and detracted from the rest of the story.

A book like this would suit someone looking for a light, but entertaining, weekend read. Think Remains of the Day and Upstairs, Downstairs, sans remarkableness. Enjoyable, interesting, yet insubstantial - nothing that which would warrant a repeat perusal.

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