The House at Riverton by Kate Morton chronicles Grace Bradley’s life as a servant from young teen to adulthood. Before the first World War, Grace begins as a housemaid in a local estate, Riverton, and soon becomes the maid to two girls of the household, Emmiline and Hannah. Grace is fascinated by Hannah, and feels drawn and linked to her, beyond the point of loyalty. She follows her through her life, becoming a confidante and a friend. Years laterRiverton becomes the site of the suicide of a young poet. The act is witnessed by Emmiline, Hannah, and Grace, and each have contributed in their own, unexpected ways.
Grace recounts her story to us at the age of 98, as her life is coming to an end and a movie version of the now infamous suicide is being filmed. Grace is the only one left to reveal the secret of what truly happened that evening, but her conviction to protect her precious Hannah remains strong.
The passages of Grace as a maid in this luxurious home are beautifully and elegantly written. The descriptions make the reader realize how different a time the early 20th century was. Etiquette, tradition, propriety, and duty were valued above all else, for good or for bad. The House at Riverton spans a length of time where one can see the changing culture, from balls to dance clubs, the waltz to jazz, and from women as wives and hostesses to women in the work force. This novel was fascinating because of these details, as well as the passion and secrets of its characters. From the first sentence I was reminded of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I was often frustrated by Grace’s naive obedience, but I am biased looking at it from a different time. She often disregarded her own passions and desires to care for Hannah, but there were forces at work that even she did not understand at the time. Overall, a very good read.