Book review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Riverton
The House at Riverton

Ten years ago, young Australian author Kate Morton caused a sensation in the book world when she delivered one of the most remarkable debut novels ever.

The House at Riverton, a fabulous story of passion, secrets and betrayal set around a large manor house just as the Edwardian summer finally surrendered to the decadent Twenties, won the Richard and Judy Best Read of the year and went on to become an international bestseller.

And to mark this extraordinary achievement, a special tenth anniversary of this much-loved book – a precursor of the nation’s love affair with TV hit Downton Abbey – has been published with a new foreword from the author explaining the background to her acclaimed family saga.

With two manuscripts under her belt, Morton reveals that The House at Riverton ‘felt different from the start’ even though she was writing with a small baby on her hip and ‘with no expectations.’

Much of it came from her love of story-telling and wordplay, and ‘the joy of escaping into my own imaginary world,’ but what she never expected was that this first published novel would be ‘The One.’

And now ten years later, when that same baby has become a teenager ‘with long skinny legs,’ Morton takes time to reflect on the novel that has since been followed by other bestsellers including The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House.

In the summer 1924, on the eve of a glittering Society party, by the lake of Riverton Manor, a grand English country house, young and promising poet Robbie Hunter takes his own life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, nieces of Riverton’s owner, Lord Ashbury, will never speak to each other again.

Over 70 years later, in the winter of 1999, Grace Bradley, now aged 98 and one-time housemaid at Riverton, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide.

Ghosts awaken and old memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks and a shocking secret threatens to emerge… something history has forgotten but Grace never could.

Brimming with nostalgia, a breathtaking scope of research, Morton’s beautiful prose and a stunning portrait of a world long forgotten, The House at Riverton is set to enchant a new generation of readers.

(Pan, paperback, £8.99)