The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog)

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My difficulties with audiobooks continues. I don’t know if it is the style of this book or my aging brain, because I did enjoy the story and the telling of it, but I had to go back and relisten to the first couple of disks and finally get a print copy to read alongside. The second half seemed to go better, and I may or may not finish reading the print copy. But that is by no means a complaint of either the book or the narrator.

This debut novel by Australian Kate Morton is an homage to Rebecca and other gothic-style romances. It would appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, and I was picturing the actors of the TV series as their counterparts in this novel as I listened. As in Downton Abbey, we see life from both the upstairs and downstairs points of view, the devastating effects of WWI on the family, and the unraveling of the social structures in the 1920s, especially for women. There are family secrets, too, which are readily guessed by an astute reader. The plot is slow-moving and drawn out. Probably the British title The Shifting Fog fits better than The House at Riverton. As a gothic novel, I expect the house to be a character in its own right, and I just didn’t feel it here. So probably 4 stars as a period piece, 3 stars for plot and development. I would like to have learned more about Grace’s life after the events of 1924 and how it affected her. As it is, this is just the confessional of a very old woman who has kept a secret for nearly 75 years.

Book description: 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.

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The Distant Hours

The Distant HoursThe Distant Hours by Kate Morton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ultimately satisfying, but the journey was quite long and rambling. There was beautiful prose along the way, but I found it hard to follow as an audiobook. I think the going back and forth in time, and shifting points of view might be clearer in the text. The gradual unveiling of various secrets took the oomph out of any suspense the author was trying to create. In the end, nothing has really changed for any of the characters except possibly the relationship between Edie and her mother. I was mostly left wondering what the point of all the wandering was. I think it would have worked better as a straight story about the three sisters and their failed romances and frustrated dreams, without framing it with the letter and the modern day journalist trying to unravel their secrets. A nice homage to gothic fiction, yes, but a romantic thriller, no.

Book description:
It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie’s mother on a Sunday afternoon. The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle, where the eccentric Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted during World War II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives caring for their younger sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancé jilted her in 1941. Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother’s past but soon learns there are other secrets hidden in its walls. The truth of what happened in “the distant hours” has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. In this enthralling romantic thriller, Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.