The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
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.
Review by Brittany:
This book is sad - make no mistake about that - but it is beautiful. Kate Morton has a writing style that pulls me in and keeps me reading until the last page. She writes with fluidity and describes events and the time period in such a way that I believe her to be an expert.
From the moment Grace lays eyes on the two girls, she longs to be a part of their world. She gets enraptured in the imaginary games they play and tries to maneuver her duties around her desire to be close to these girls. As time moves on, she and Hannah become closer and closer, to the point where she leaves Riverton to be Hannah's lady maid after Hannah is married. Grace even sacrifices her own personal life in order to stay close to Hannah and to stay loyal to her.
Emmeline is illustrated as being the slightly spoiled baby of the family, and as the twenties roll in, she becomes the one who is sociable, going out and dancing and partying. At one point she gets mixed up in a bad situation where she is making questionable films, and Hannah takes it upon herself to "rescue" her sister.
The culmination of the story comes when Hannah and her husband move back to Riverton, taking Grace with them. It is here that secrets are revealed to the characters who did not know them and tragedy strikes. This book ended in such a way that I was left marveling at the fragility of human life and how a small white lie can change the course of everything.
Overall, beautiful writing, beautiful characters, and a story that I am still shaking my head over. I loved this book.
He was handsome. But who amongst the young is not?
True history, the past, is not like that. It isn't flat or linear. It has no outline. It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space. And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version is proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces.
Love affairs, in their beginnings, are all about the present. But there is a point in each - an event, an exchange, some other unseen trigger - which forces the past and the future back into focus.
It's only with age I have learned solely to listen to things I want to hear.
"Romance makes people forget themselves, do silly things."
While one's child takes a part of one's heart to use and misuse as they please, a grandchild is different. Gone are the bonds of guilt and responsibility that burden the maternal relationship. The way to love is free.