Saturday, 19 July 2008

The House At Riverton

'I take a breath. You once told me, Marcus, that there is a point in most stories from which there is no return. When all the central characters have made their way onstage and the scene is set for the drama to unfold. The storyteller relinquishes control and the characters begin to move of their own accord...I smile, for I am no more able to stop this story than I am to halt the march of time. I am not romantic enough to imagine it wants to be told, but I am honest enough to acknowledge that I want to tell it.'

The House At Riverton is set in England opening before the days of the First World War and continuing into the 1920s. The story is told from the perspective of Grace Bradley, who goes to work as a maid in the home of the aristocratic Hartford family. It is told in flashback, which as a rule I detest because it is often badly done, but Kate Morton handles it skilfully; and the story flows through Grace in the present day to her memories more than 60 years earlier.

It also touches on the events of the First World War and those whose lives were changed forever. One paragraph that seemed particularly poignant was:

'Wars make history seem deceptively simple. They provide clear turning points, easy distinctions: before and after, winner and loser, right and wrong. 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.'

The story is told so well and Kate Morton weaves a web that draws the reader in. It touches the heart and remains in the memory long after the final page has been turned. It is a truly outstanding debut novel.