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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Memoir-stories tend to be a dangerous fare. There is something in them that makes it easier to be waxing nostalgic and overwrought than an actual, engaging narrative.

The House at Riverton tells of Grace, a woman in her nineties who is contacted by a movie studio about an upcoming film. The film is a fictionalized account of sisters Hannah and Emmeline, beautiful young women who grew up and met tragedy at Riverton, a manor house where Grace was employed as a girl. Told partially in modern time and partially in the Edwardian era of seen-and-not-heard servants and proper breeding, it is the story of wealth and society, family secrets and desperate tragedy, attractive young men and roaring parties, and the end of "high society" for one well-to-do family.

When this book was recommended to me, I wasn't certain I would like it. I'm a mystery buff, someone who lives for unanswered questions and dark secrets, and the thought of reliving a ninety-something's life story didn't appeal to me. The first few chapters, too, are focused on Grace as an elderly woman, her humorless daughter, her on-a-mystery-trip grandson. It isn't until we move back to Grace's first days in service at Riverton and the introduction of Hannah, Emmeline, and David that the action starts to pick up.

Covering the sheer number of years the book does is hard, and Morton's storytelling suffers for it. There is a period of ten years that are, essentially, ignored, and many times the "secret" that is mentioned time and again is dropped so thoroughly that it's hard to remember there is one. But in the last 50 pages, Morton pulls it together and presents a resolution so surprising that the twist has twists of its own.

If there is one criticism, it is that Morton plays the "everything is connected" card a few too many times, but in an overall charming and fulfilling narrative, I can overlook one too many bows on the packaging.

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buecherwald
the forest-dweller

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