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House at Riverton (Morton)

The House at Riverton
Kate Morton, 2006
Simon & Schuster
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781416550532


Summary  
Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they—and Grace—know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties, and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets—some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne Du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war, and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

Originally published to critical acclaim in Australia, already sold in ten countries and a #1 bestseller in England, The House at Riverton is a vivid, page-turning novel of suspense and passion, with characters-and an ending-the reader won't soon forget. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—1976
Where—Berri, South Australia
Education—B.A., and M.A., University of Queensland
Currently—lives in Australia


Kate Morton, a native Australian, holds degrees in dramatic art and English literature and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland. She lives with her family in Brisbane, Australia. The House at Riverton is her first novel; The Forgotten Garden, her second, was published in 2008. (From the publisher.)

More
Morton, an acclaimed Australian author, is one of three sisters born in Queensland, Australia. The family later settled on Tamborine Mountain where Morton attended a small country school. She then completed a Licentiate in Speech and Drama from Trinity College London.

Later she earned a first class honours for her English Literature degree at Queensland University. Following this she obtained a scholarship and completed a Master's degree focussing on tragedy in Victorian literature. She is currently enrolled in a Ph. D program researching contemporary novels that marry elements of gothic and mystery fiction.

Kate is married to Davin, a composer, and they have two young sons. All four live together in a nineteenth-century home replete with its own ghosts and secrets (From Wikipedia and the author's website.)



Book Reviews 
This debut page-turner from Australian Morton recounts the crumbling of a prominent British family as seen through the eyes of one of its servants. At 14, Grace Reeves leaves home to work for her mother's former employers at Riverton House. She is the same age as Hannah, the headstrong middle child who visits her uncle, Lord Ashbury, at Riverton House with her siblings Emmeline and David. Fascinated, Grace observes their comings and goings and, as an invisible maid, is privy to the secrets she will spend "a lifetime pretending to forget." But when a filmmaker working on a movie about the family contacts a 98-year-old Grace to fact-check particulars, the memories come swirling back. The plot largely revolves around sisters Hannah and Emmeline, who were present when a family friend, the young poet R.S. Hunter, allegedly committed suicide at Riverton. Grace hints throughout the narrative that no one knows the real story, and as she chronicles Hannah's schemes to have her own life and the curdling of younger Emmeline's jealousy, the truth about the poet's death is revealed. Morton triumphs with a riveting plot, a touching but tense love story and a haunting ending.
Publishers Weekly


For decades, Grace Reeves has kept secret the truth of a poet's violent death by the lake at Riverton House in Oxfordshire. Now at the end of her life, 98-year-old Grace's memory is swept back, after interviews for a film about the tragic incident, to those years of her service for the Hartford family. At 15, Grace begins her adult life as a housemaid in the grand Riverton House, quickly learning her place in the servant hierarchy. Her loyalty and attachment to Hannah and Emmeline Hartford grow over the years, as the Hartford family is affected by war, death, financial failings, and illicit love. Debut Australian author Morton pens a suspenseful and beautifully atmospheric novel capturing the transitional time from the end of the Edwardian era through World War I into the Roaring Twenties. Intriguing characters, both past and present, are skillfully drawn to create an enjoyable tale. Recommended for popular fiction collections. —Joy St. John, Henderson Dist. Public .Lib, Nevada
Library Journal


In Australian author Morton's atmospheric first novel, a 98-year-old woman recollects her unwitting role in a fatal deception. Grace, a prominent former archeologist, is living out her waning years in a British nursing home, when an American filmmaker, Ursula, asks her to consult on a movie about the scandalous 1924 suicide of a poet during a lavish soiree at Riverton, a country estate where Grace once served as parlor maid to the Hartford family. Extended flashbacks excavate the mysteries that surround Grace almost from the first. Why did Grace's mother, herself a servant at Riverton before leaving under a cloud, send her 14-year-old daughter to work there? Who is Grace's father? The domestic servant is a convenient expository device: Grace can eavesdrop on every Hartford family crisis. Hannah, her sister Emmeline and brother David occasionally visit Riverton, owned by their uncle, Lord Ashbury. Their father, Frederick, the second son, is an automobile pioneer. But World War I upends the destinies of the Hartford clan. David, his schoolmate Robbie and Grace's heartthrob, Alfred, a footman, all go to fight. David is killed, Robbie drops out of sight and Alfred suffers shell shock. The war also claims the lives of Lord Ashbury and his eldest son, and Frederick inherits the title. Frederick's business is mortgaged to American bankers, the Luxtons, who force a sale of his factory. To Frederick's chagrin, Hannah marries Luxton scion Teddy, who, after flirting briefly with bohemian ways, reverts to stodgy banker-hood. Languishing in London while her estranged father lets Riverton decay, Hannah relies increasingly on Grace, now her personal maid. Hannah's mistaken assumption that Grace knows shorthand leads both to make a tragic error in judgment. Meanwhile, Robbie resurfaces, his psyche scarred by war. Although ostensibly courting Emmeline, Robbie is drawn into an adulterous affair with Hannah that proves his undoing. Though the climactic revelation feels contrived, Morton's characters and their predicaments are affecting, and she recreates the period with a sure hand.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. Do you think of The House at Riverton as a tragic novel? How are the characters' tragic outcomes caused by the incompatibility of what they want and who they are?

2. How important to the novel's outcome is Grace's longing for a sister? When Grace finds out about her true parentage, why does she choose not to tell Hannah? Is it the right decision? Would things have ended differently had she done otherwise?

3. Kate Morton has said that the novel's setting is as important to her as its characters, that Riverton Manor is as much a character of the book as its inhabitants. Do you agree? Does Riverton mirror the fates of the Hartford family and the aristocracy in general? If so, in what ways?

4. The First World War was a catalyst for enormous social and cultural change. Not a character in The House at Riverton is left untouched by this. Whose life is most altered? Why?

5. Is there a heroine inThe House at Riverton? If so, who is it and why?

6. Grace and Robbie are both illegitimate children of upper-class parents; however, their lives and opportunities are vastly different. Why?

7. Duty is very important to the youthful Grace. Did Grace's sense of duty contribute to the novel's conclusion? If so, how? Would things have turned out better for the characters if Grace had made different decisions?

8. One of the main themes of The House at Riverton is the haunting of the present by the past. In what ways does the novel suggest that the past can never be escaped? Do you agree that our pasts are inescapable?

9. Grace has resisted ever telling anyone about the events at Riverton. Why? What makes her change her mind? Is Grace a reliable narrator?Given her motive for recording her memories, can we trust her?

10. The twentieth century was a period of great and accelerated social change. In particular, the historical years that make up the bulk of Grace's memories comprised a time of enormous transition. In what ways does Grace's life exemplify these social changes?

11. Despite their differences, how might Grace and Hannah be seen as "doubles"? How does Grace's relationship with Alfred mirror Hannah's relationship with Robbie?

12. Another theme in The House at Riverton is that of inheritance — the way we are bound to our families through various items that are passed between the generations. Along with material inheritances, we are also subject to physical, social and psychological legacies. These inheritances are important in making us who we are, and are not easily escaped. In what way is this notion explored in The House at Riverton? How do these various types of inheritance influence the lives of Hannah, Frederick, Teddy, Robbie, Grace, Jemima and Simion?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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