Thursday, July 22, 2010

The House At Riverton by Kate Morton

470 pages
Published in 2006 by Atria Books
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc
New York, NY

The House At Riverton was originally published in Australia in 2006 as The Shifting Fog; it was Kate Morton's debut novel at the age of 30. I've been curious to read this book for quite some time. The cover art and the publisher's plot summary just tickled my mystery-loving readers palette. After reading and enjoying The Forgotten Garden and learning that Dame Agatha Christie makes a cameo (yet fictional) appearance within the story I knew I needed to add this to my TBR list.

Plot Summary Courtesy of the Author:

My Thoughts:
Is it possible to really like and really dislike a book at the same time? Some might call that emotion "lukewarm", but I can't say my feelings about The House at Riverton were that, in fact they were far from it. I really really liked this book and at the same time I really really didn't. And apparently I am not alone in how I feel I've noticed reviews from other readers range from a 1 star "I didn't finish it, too predicable, to cliche." To 5 stars "I loved it! Such a great read, I couldn't put it down."

So what made me feel so strongly mixed in my emotions? Well, on the one hand I did find the story slightly predicable and the characters a little cliche. The plot was unique, but it didn't take me completely by surprise. From nearly the beginning I had figured out a good portion of the mystery. And then there was the characters and settings, they seemed oddly familiar. I finally realized there were two reasons for this. First, Morton tends to make subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) nods toward a handful of 19th and 20th century classics (but more on that later). And second, there are certain characteristics and themes that mirror each other between Morton's first and second novels, something that is obvious to anyone who has read the books close together. I can only hope this will not be repeated too many more times in her novels as it could grow old.

On the other hand, there is something about Morton's storytelling that I just really enjoy. Despite the predictability I still found myself caught up in the story and turning page after page until late at night I reached the end and at last the puzzle pieces all fell into place. It is a compelling story.

Something else that I like about Morton's writing is that she keeps her stories fairly clean. I may not agree with the moral choices that some of the characters make, but there is little to no language and the love scenes are more implied than described and any that are mentioned are void of details. The only exception in The House At Riverton was when two-thirds of the way through I was jolted in my reading when I came upon the single use of the "F" word. I was not expecting it and it felt completely unnecessary and as if the publisher required it to make the book appeal to the masses. Still, if a reader is willing to overlook this, as it only takes up a tiny percentage of the story, I suspect they will find The House At Riverton an engaging read.

At this point I feel I should note to readers that The House At Riverton is not really a love story, though a few characters do get their "happily-ever-after." It is a mystery that revolves around a tragedy and it is a coming-of-age story for both the protagonist and two extremely different social classes during the earliest years of the 20th century. It reminds me a little of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, which I suppose is why I was not surprised to learn that Kate Morton claimed her inspiration for the book sprouted from several sources, including novels by Daphne DuMaurier, the Bronte sisters and Ian McEwan. In addition to the obvious (Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Atonement) I also noticed several other literary hints to such novels as Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I realize not every reader will like The House At Riverton and honestly I'm a little surprised that I did. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with Kate Morton's storytelling. She just weaves a story that kept me reading.

If either The Forgotten Garden or The House At Riverton are ever adapted to the screen I would be interested in seeing them. I am already planning to check out Morton's third and latest novel, The Distant Hours, which will be available in November of this year. From what I can find on Morton's website this novel will be a little different, but there are still some of the same themes she used in her first two novels. I'm curious as to the reason behind this. Why is Morton inspired to write about these particular types of people? And will she be able to tell a story equally as compelling as her first two yet without echoing the feeling of deja vue? Guess I'll have to wait and see.

Related Links:
Kate Morton's Website
The Forgotten Garden Reviewed


Sarah at SmallWorld said...

It's been a couple of years, but I remember really liking this one. I'll have to look for more of her books--thanks for the reminder!

Jennifer said...

I got this one from Paperbackswap after a PBS friend highly recommend it to me. I can understand the love/hate relationship with some books, so you have peaked my interest even more in this one! Not sure when I'll get to read it, but hopefully soon! Thanks for the thoughtful review!