It’s with a sense of loss that I finished reading The House at Riverton. I felt as though I’d now lost contact with the characters and the worlds they inhabit. I say worlds because this novel is split into two time zones, so widely different in all aspects that they could be separate worlds.
The novel opens in 1999 (reminsicent of Du Maurier’s Rebecca) with Grace’s dream of the night in 1924 when Robbie Hunter, a poet, committed suicide at Riverton Manor. Grace’s memories are revived after Ursula, an American film director who is making a film of the suicide had asked for her help as the only person involved who was still alive.
Grace had worked for the Hartford family during the period 1914 – 1924 , first as a housemaid at Riverton Manor house, then in London as lady’s maid to Hannah, one of the Hartford sisters. The social life of the upper classes during the Edwardian period is the setting for this part of the novel, vividly bringing it to life and contrasting with life and society in the 1990s. The secrets concerning both Grace’s past life and her relationship with the two sisters, Hannah and Emmeline are told in a series of flashbacks as Grace records her memories on tape for her grandson, Marcus (and there is a mystery surrounding Marcus too).
This is a richly descriptive book, well located both in time and place, indentifying the differences in the social classes in 1914 on the eve of the first world war and the immense changes that followed. The characters are well-drawn and believable. The tension and the pace of the novel held my attention throughout, so much so that I had to concentrate on reading just this one book, instead of picking up several as I normally do.
This is a book about strong characters, about families and relationships within the family, particularly between sisters; about privilege; effects of war and change within society; and there is a mystery as well. Definitely a book worth reading.