The House at Riverton: A Novel

The House at Riverton: A Novel

by Kate Morton

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Overview

The House at Riverton: A Novel by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton is a gorgeous debut novel set in England between the wars. Perfect for fans of Downton Abbey, it is the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416550532
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 03/03/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 49,616
Product dimensions: 8.24(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.32(d)

About the Author

Kate Morton is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, The Lake House, and The Clockmaker’s Daughter. Her books are published in 34 languages and have been #1 bestsellers worldwide. She is a native Australian, holds degrees in dramatic art and English literature. She lives with her family in London and Australia.

Read an Excerpt

The House at Riverton




  • LAST November I had a nightmare.

    It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again. All the doors hung wide open, silk billowing in the summer breeze. An orchestra perched high on the hill beneath the ancient maple, violins lilting lazily in the warmth. The air rang with pealing laughter and crystal, and the sky was the kind of blue we’d all thought the war had destroyed forever. One of the footmen, smart in black and white, poured champagne into the top of a tower of glass flutes and everyone clapped, delighting in the splendid wastage.

    I saw myself, the way one does in dreams, moving amongst the guests. Moving slowly, much more slowly than one can in life, the others a blur of silk and sequins.

    I was looking for someone.

    Then the picture changed and I was near the summer house, only it wasn’t the summer house at Riverton—it couldn’t have been. This was not the shiny new building Teddy had designed, but an old structure with ivy climbing the walls, twisting itself through the windows, strangling the pillars.

    Someone was calling me. A woman, a voice I recognized, coming from behind the building, on the lake’s edge. I walked down the slope, my hands brushing against the tallest reeds. A figure crouched on the bank.

    It was Hannah, in her wedding dress, mud splattered across the front, clinging to the appliquéd roses. She looked up at me, her face pale where it emerged from shadow. Her voice chilled my blood. “You’re too late.” She pointed at my hands. “You’re too late.”

    I looked down at my hands, young hands, covered in dark river mud, and in them the stiff, cold body of a dead foxhound.

    I KNOW what brought it on, of course. It was the letter from the filmmaker. I don’t receive much mail these days: the occasional postcard from a dutiful, holidaying friend; a perfunctory letter from the bank where I keep a savings account; an invitation to the christening of a child whose parents I am shocked to realize are no longer children themselves.

    Ursula’s letter had arrived on a Tuesday morning late in November and Sylvia had brought it with her when she came to make my bed. She’d raised heavily sketched eyebrows and waved the envelope.

    “Mail today. Something from the States by the look of the stamp. Your grandson, perhaps?” The left brow arched—a question mark—and her voice lowered to a husky whisper. “Terrible business, that. Just terrible. And him such a nice young man.”

    As Sylvia tut-tutted, I thanked her for the letter. I like Sylvia. She’s one of the few people able to look beyond the lines on my face to see the twenty-year-old who lives inside. Nonetheless, I refuse to be drawn into conversation about Marcus.

    I asked her to open the curtains and she pursed her lips a moment before moving on to another of her favorite subjects: the weather, the likelihood of snow for Christmas, the havoc it would wreak on the arthritic residents. I responded when required, but my mind was on the envelope in my lap, wondering at the scratchy penmanship, the foreign stamps, softened edges that spoke of lengthy travails.

    “Here, why don’t I read that for you,” Sylvia said, giving the pillows a final, hopeful plump. “Give your eyes a bit of a rest?”

    “No. Thank you. Perhaps you could pass my glasses, though?”

    When she’d left, promising to come back and help me dress after she’d finished her rounds, I prised the letter from its envelope, hands shaking the way they do, wondering whether he was finally coming home.

    But it wasn’t from Marcus at all. It was from a young woman making a film about the past. She wanted me to look at her sets, to remember things and places from long ago. As if I hadn’t spent a lifetime pretending to forget.

    I ignored that letter. I folded it carefully and quietly, slid it inside a book I’d long ago given up reading. And then I exhaled. It was not the first time I had been reminded of what happened at Riverton, to Robbie and the Hartford sisters. Once I saw the tail end of a documentary on television, something Ruth was watching about war poets. When Robbie’s face filled the screen, his name printed across the bottom in an unassuming font, my skin prickled. But nothing happened. Ruth didn’t flinch, the narrator continued, and I went on drying the dinner plates.

    Another time, reading the newspaper, my eye was drawn to a familiar name in a write-up in the television guide; a program celebrating seventy years of British films. I noted the time, my heart thrilling, wondering if I dared watch it. In the end I fell asleep before it finished. There was very little about Emmeline. A few publicity photos, none of which showed her true beauty, and a clip from one of her silent films, The Venus Affair, which made her look strange: hollow-cheeked; jerky movements like a marionette. There was no reference to the other films, the ones that threatened such a fuss. I suppose they don’t rate a mention in these days of promiscuity and permissiveness.

    But although I had been met with such memories before, Ursula’s letter was different. It was the first time in over seventy years that anyone had associated me with the events, had remembered that a young woman named Grace Reeves had been at Riverton that summer. It made me feel vulnerable somehow, singled out. Guilty.

    No. I was adamant. That letter would remain unanswered.

    And so it did.

    A strange thing began to happen, though. Memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of my mind, began to sneak through cracks. Images were tossed up high and dry, picture-perfect, as if a lifetime hadn’t passed between. And, after the first tentative drops, the deluge. Whole conversations, word for word, nuance for nuance; scenes played out as though on film.

    I have surprised myself. While moths have torn holes in my recent memories, I find the distant past is sharp and clear. They come often lately, those ghosts from the past, and I am surprised to find I don’t much mind them. Not nearly so much as I had supposed I would. Indeed, the specters I have spent my life escaping have become almost a comfort, something I welcome, anticipate, like one of those serials Sylvia is always talking about, hurrying her rounds so that she can watch them down at the main hall. I had forgotten, I suppose, that there were bright memories in amongst the dark.

    When the second letter arrived last week, in the same scratchy hand on the same soft paper, I knew I was going to say yes, I would look at the sets. I was curious, a sensation I hadn’t felt in some time. There is not much left to be curious about when one is ninety-eight years old, but I wanted to meet this Ursula Ryan who plans to bring them all to life again, who is so passionate about their story.

    So I wrote her a letter, had Sylvia post it for me and we arranged to meet.

  • Table of Contents

    PART ONE

    Ghosts Stir The Drawing Room The Nursery Waiting for the Recital All Good Things Saffron High Street In the West Until We Meet Again

    PART TWO

    The Twelfth of July The Fall of Icarus The Photograph Bankers The Dinner A Suitable Husband The Ball and After

    PART THREE

    Catching Butterflies Down the Rabbit Hole In the Depths Resurrection The Choice

    PART FOUR

    Hannah's Story The Beginning of the End Riverton Revisited Slipping Out of Time The End The Tape The Letter

    Acknowledgments Author's Note

    What People are Saying About This

    From the Publisher

    "This novel will challenge your definitions of friendship, family and, most of all, trust." — Hallmark Magazine

    "An extraordinary debut...written with a lovely turn of phrase. [Morton] knows how to eke out tantalizing secrets and drama." — The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

    Reading Group Guide

    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 in The 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?

    Introduction

    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 in The 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?

    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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    House at Riverton 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 875 reviews.
    sweetpeaSP More than 1 year ago
    THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON is a historical novel and revolves around a suicide. In 1924 a young poet apparently killed himself on the Riverton property. Ninety eight year old Grace tells the story and alternates between past and present. There's a lot of secrecy and suspense and keeps the reader guessing until the very end. A movie producer becomes fascinated with the story of the troubled poet. In her research she learns that a Riverton maid is still alive in a nursing home, (Grace). A mystery and a love story, plenty of twists and turns, readers unravel the mystery. Exciting!
    JerseyAngel More than 1 year ago
    For me, this was on of the best novels I have read in some time. In order to truly like this book, you must enjoy a good story. Good stories aren't always filled with suspense and drama. The ending is a wonderful one but sometimes to enjoy the end you must know the beginning. The majority of the book is allowing you to get to know the characters, their relationships, and this is what makes the ending so emotional & satisfying. This is a spectacular debut from a new author who is able to allow us to see the past through the memories of an older woman. We see life through the eyes of a service girl dedicated to the lady she works for. A girl who kept a secret her entire life and finally shares it with the reader. It's been a long time since I felt such emotion after finishing a book.
    simple344 More than 1 year ago
    There are only few books with a great storyline. This was one of them. A great summer read.
    Flying_Bull_Shark More than 1 year ago
    I love historical novels and this one did not disappoint. I love how that book is narrarated. The characters are interesting and suprise you right up until the end. I love how the characters are connected. I only wish Grace could have told us a bit more about the later years of her life (not that they mattered). Overall a great read.
    Bentley16 More than 1 year ago
    This is my first book by Kate Morton. I must say, I do love this period and this type of book. It was a little slow to get going but well worth it. Once this story got moving, I could not put it down. I love mysteries as well and thought I had this one figured out as there is a "who done it" theme to this book. Well, I did to a point have it figured out, but there was a twist at the end the surprised me. Actually, there were a few twists at the end that were welcome surprises. I can't wait to read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Since I don't like when people review a book and give away the entire plot, all I will say is I highly recommend this book. Enjoyed the writing style as well.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The House at Riverton was the first book I'd read by this author. This was not the book for me. I found it very boring and slow, and depressing. It was like reading a soap opera. Lots of characters, to the point that it was a little confusing for me. Some of them seemed unnecessary. As much as there was going on in this book, nothing really happened. And I was looking forward to reading The Forgotten Garden, but after this experience with this book and author....maybe not.
    Charr9 More than 1 year ago
    I started with Forgotten Garden which was her second book, and loved it, so I ordered House At Riverton and am 3/4 of the way through, and love it, too. They are both tales of the rich and privleged of the past, but also very much of the have-nots, also. They both have deep mysteriss, and do not telegraph where they are going. They mix a little of the present in too so you have that contrast, like what was done in the movie"Titanic". Her stories are rich in atmosphere and descrption of another time. It takes a few pages to get into the tale, but is very rewarding. I will buy anything from Kate Morton from now on.
    db-reader More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the plot, the characters and the drama catpured in this book. It makes me want to be that interesting as an old woman minus the regrets and reiterates that we all have secrets. Another enjoyable book of Kate Morton is The Secret Garden... which I read first and found to be better than The House at Riverton.
    MariaSavva_Author More than 1 year ago
    I must admit I nearly gave up reading this novel after about the first 100 pages. It just seemed to long-winded. I think it definitely could have been shorter, too many words and too many characters, some were just not needed!! Having said that though, if you persevere it does get better. It took me a long time to read, I found I could only read it one chunk at a time, but I thought the ending was perfect, maybe the best ending to a book I have read in a long time. Kate Morton is undoubtedly a very talented writer and a lot of effort has gone into writing this book. It's worth reading just to get to the 'secret' at the end. If you like romantic fiction, with a bit of history thrown in then this one is for you
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The House at Riverton is amazing. The plot is exceptional and well thought out. Somewhat predictable at some parts, but in a good way because the story flowed. The characters were well written and didn't change (unless you count growing up). I couldn't stop reading because I really wanted to know what happened. I fell in love with a few characters, even one that didn't last long in the book. Another great thing about this book was the setting. I'm absolutely in love with England, especially in the past.
    HEDI09 More than 1 year ago
    Just up my alley, although I'm usually not that into historical novels, I loved this. Done in retrospect is fascinating and secrets revealed cleverly kept me intrigued. Another book I'd like to recommend that I'm absolutely in love with is EXPLOSION IN PARIS, by LINDA MASEMORE PIRRUNG! It has all the profound insights into the human condition with, conlicts, tragedies, endurance, but also pure joy, and fullfillment that can't be measured! Check out the reviews! They hooked ME big time!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    the story unfolds beautifully with the reader having knowledge of some tragedy at the end. What I loved about the book is that you really didnt know how that tragedy would come to be. lovely descriptive words, interesting characters and easy to follow jumps from past to present. Loved it!
    hollylewis More than 1 year ago
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It has a good story and well drawn characters. What I enjoyed most, however, was the fascinating peek into the lives of servants in an early 20th century English mansion, especially the way they viewed their employers and their jobs. It was such a different way of life than today, and their attitudes were so different than what we would have today were we in their positions. I highly recommend this book!
    Honeysipper More than 1 year ago
    Really enjoyed this book for it's character development and blending of old with the new. Gives a wonderful portrayal of an era of change and the class system of servitude in Victorian times and how the war changed that. Not a fast moving novel but the writers descriptive forces are amazing. I liked this author so much I bought the new one The Forgotten Garden, it's even better.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was a book to forget. The setting, time frame and characters all seemed interesting. I stayed up late a number of nights reading and hoping it would be a satisfying ending. In the end I simply didn't feel moved by the spoiled rich people and their servants.
    deWinter More than 1 year ago
    The House at Riverton did not disappoint! After reading The Forgotten Garden, I thought I'd give Morton another try. I may like this one better!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Basically a good story. I dont really like too many flashbacks and flash forwards, as it interrupts the story. The ending was good, but for one thing: there' s a major plot point that just hangs there. Id recommend the book, but it could have been edited a little more.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Amazing from start to end. I was captured by the characters and wanted to be there with them! Lots of twists and turns.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have rather contradictory feelings about this book. Well written, but very slow paced. While I found the premise of the story and the characters interesting, slow development of the story often allowed my attention to wander. I'd catch myself having read a page without really reading it. Had this not been the selection my book club was reading, I probably would not have finished it. That would have been a shame because the last part of the book was very good. In all fairness, there were members of my book club who thoroughly enjoyed THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was... intense. I enjoy Morton's writing style very much, and this book was excellent. The ending left me amazed, and a little sad. I do believe her other novel The Forgotten Garden is better, this story was great. I loved Grace, and her strength, Hannah and her secrets, and Robbie and his love. I recomend this book to anyone!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love this author - her first book was fantastic and, because of that, I bought this one to see if i could recapture the feeling I got from the first one. Even though it wasn't as reviting, I thought this was a very good story - I could get into the characters and the ending was a bit of a surprise!
    clemmy More than 1 year ago
    I love Grace and her story. Kate Morton did an amazing job with the flashbacks. I've never read such a jumpy book that was so seemless and easy to follow (as far as what time you're in). By the time you got to the end, you knew everything before the event and everything after; you knew everything except what happened at this specific time and place when Robbie died. It took me a long time to read the last few chapters because I was so stressed knowing how everything ended and how everything began except for the one moment that defined just about everything - and Grace's need to tell her story. While I don't agree with Grace about everything, I love her and respect her, feelings only a very good author can bring about under the circumstances of the story. The book I suggest has a similar format.
    noveladdict More than 1 year ago
    I love stories about old English estates. This story is fantastic. There is something for everyone. Very well written and highly addictive.
    bkrdr63 More than 1 year ago
    This book reminded me of classic literature. While reading this book, I felt throughly immersed in the story. I found myself thinking about the story during the times when I wasn't reading the book. The pacing of the book was also similar to that of many classics. It doesn't open with a bang at a breakneck pace but rather slowly draws one into the world of Victorian society. I can't wait to read The Forgotten Garden by the same author.
    Didun More than 1 year ago
    I had already read "The Forgotten Garden" by this author and enjoyed it and was looking forward to this book. However, I found that the first 3/4 of the book was kind of boring with little tidbits thrown in here and there to whet the appetite for the mysteries to come which were not really addressed until the last 1/4 of the book. The pacing could have been so much better and the tantalizing portions of Grace's story could have been fleshed out more to keep the reader absorbed. Certain events were alluded to, such as the death of Frederick's wife and the supposed affair of Grace's mother, and the identity of Ursula's grandmother thrown in near the very end, but were never expanded upon, and I found that to be annoying and disappointing. On a positive note, it was interesting to read about the relationships between the upstairs and downstairs household during this time of history.