Kate Morton: The House at Riverton

by Rachel Baker on January 8, 2008

I recently received a copy of The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. This book is due for publication in the United States in April 2008. It was published in 2006 in Australia and, then in Britain in 2007 – where it became an instant hit.

The story is told from a first person narration by a woman in her 90s, at the near end of her life. The tool used to tell the story is flipping back and forth from the past to the present. The style of the novel is reminiscent of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Titanic (the movie) to name a few.

The amount of research done for this book is phenomenal. The period and socio-economic times of the setting have been laid out meticulously. This attention to detail allows the reader to understand the true issues of the main character’s dilemma; and helps the reader understand the importance of the various secrets in the plot line. The House at Riverton was a quick read, entertaining, but not very thought provoking.

The novel starts out strong with its multi-layers of character and plot building and memory sequences. As the story progressed, the outcomes become extremely predictable. The memory sequences caused a bit of complexity that became “worn” by the middle of the book, due to over usage. In all fairness to the author, this could have been indicative of the loss of faculties, as death gets closer in the elderly.

The reader is led to believe some characters are extremely important to the storyline. Unfortunately, this over-inflated importance causes disappointment in the end when the reader realizes the character was really just superficial to the story.

The present day narrations would have been better suited to the story if the old woman had been telling the real story of the tragedy to the filmmaker and not to her grandson, who is by all rights a superficial character. The additional characters did nothing more than complicate the novel. The author spent time making sure the reader knew there were some regrets in this area of the old woman’s life and left little resolution in the relationships of the old woman’s immediate family.

This is a novel about living a life filled with secrets, and regretting the outcomes. To a large degree, the tragedy in the past was the old woman’s fault. The novel was about her purging her soul of the guilt before her own death. The tragedy in the past was not the real story though. The socio-economic structure of the characters in that time period led to the need for secrets. This novel is not about the sisters, the house, the family, or the house staff. It’s about the old woman and the mis-truth she allowed her mistress to believe, which eventually became the catalyst for the family tragedy (in her mind) and the lifelong guilt she lived with until shortly before her death. Yet, the story was written in such a way the reader might forget the mis-truth was ever told.

Too many clues were left for the reader to figure out the “secrets” – and there were many. This book was just not very challenging, though it was entertaining. I found myself extremely interested in the first part through half of the second part. Unfortunately, after that, I was just reading to finish it, not because I was enthralled in the story. I was curious to know how the author would end the novel, but that really had nothing to do with the story.

I think it is important to note, this is the author’s first novel. Its a good first novel, and I’m interested to see how she progresses as an author.

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