Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What We're Reading: The House at Riverton

A few weekends ago, my cousin Bette left me a message asking me to call and have a chat, but she warned me not to call at a particular hour on Sunday night, as she would be engrossed in the new Masterpiece Classic version of Upstairs Downstairs on PBS and would not be answering the phone! After that, of course, I had to watch it myself, since it has been decades since the original version mesmerized all anglophile television viewers (including me) for weeks on end. Interestingly, the day after I saw it, I picked up Kate Morton's first book, The House at Riverton, to read. Two others of Morton's books (The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours) have been discussed and reviewed here by other bloggers, and I had read (and enjoyed) both of those, but the first book seemed always to be checked out when I went looking for it. Imagine my surprise, after my evening of Masterpiece Theater, to discover that the theme of this book is practically identical. The book is told from the downstairs perspective of the housemaid, Grace, who details in retrospect her humble role in the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege during the years between the World Wars, as she served Hannah and Emmeline Hartford at Riverton House in the English countryside. True to form for Morton's books, there is a mystery, there are secrets, there are passion, suspense and last-minute revelation. Everything is told in flashback by an aging Grace, whose memories have been triggered by the presence of a young director making a film about the events of the summer when a young poet shot himself in the Riverton garden and only the young ladies and Grace know the truth of what occurred. If you, too, enjoyed Upstairs Downstairs, try another look through the eyes of Kate Morton! And if you never saw the original saga of the Bellamy family and their loyal servants, check it out from this library and have a marathon of immersion in the lives of the British aristocracy and their humble belowstairs counterparts.

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