Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book 72: The House at Riverton

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The premise of the novel is that Grace, a 98 year old woman in a retirement home, is contacted by a movie director, Ursula who is making a film about the 1924 suicide of a World War I poet, Robbie Hunter. At the time of the suicide, Grace was the lady's maid at Riverton, and her employer Hannah and Hannah's sister, Emmeline, both witnessed the suicide. While Grace doesn't tell Ursula what happened, she finds herself reminiscing about the past more and more, and begins recording her story to give to her grandson Marcus, a mystery writer who has disappeared following his wife's death.

So I admit I enjoyed reading the novel but I'm not sure if it was necessarily a very good one - some things were incredibly obvious from the very beginning that Grace apparently didn't figure out till much later in her life. Maybe part of the reason some things were so predictable had much to do with the fact that I've read this novel before. In this case it was told from the perspective of the maid, but other than that, much of the plot reminded me of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (which Morton goes on to recommend in her "Author's Note") - the elements of the plot that weren't from that novel seemed like they were from The Thirteenth Tale. Between those two novels, you've pretty much got the story for this one without some of the darker themes. Here are the opening lines of the novel: "Last November I had a nightmare. It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again." Compare that to Rebecca's opening line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." As I said, very derivitative.

However, even with her more or less copying plots from other novels, she still wrote a better story than I could have - it's hard to come up with an original idea these days, and there are definitely worse books to copy. For anyone that likes the mysterious past intermixing with the present (I guess these are called gothic novels :p ), I'd also recommend Shadows of the Wind. Unlike this one and the other two I mentioned, it isn't about sister relationships, but it still has a tragic love story at its heart.

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