“The House at Riverton” is a well-written, easy-to-read novel, based in and around Riverton, a grand English country house. From the hot summer of 1914, when the shadow of war starts to loom over an otherwise idyllic England, to an equally hot, post-war summer of 1924, through to the bleak, colder winter of 1999, we follow the lives and loves and deaths and mysteries of the many people who made up the privileged little world of Riverton.
Grace, our narrator, is now 98 when we meet her, alone in a nursing home, remembering her past, but for much of the book she is a terrified little 14 year old, starting to work as a lowly housemaid in the big country home.
The novel skilfully weaves time frames and stories together, as we also move from upstairs to downstairs effortlessly, following the many well-drawn characters. At times, while 1999 Grace is talking to us, we move seamlessly back to the 1920s, without the narrative flow ever being interrupted.
1999 Grace tells us about her life in the 20s, sometimes talking directly to us, sometimes into a tape-recorder, as she records a tape for her beloved grandson, and sometimes talking to Ursula, a kind and thoughtful film producer, who is making a film about Riverton.
Not only does the author blend time-frames, she also blends narration and memory and letters and film. Grace even meets the 20 year old actress who will play her in the film. The latter is a little disappointed at how small her role is, unaware – although we are – that Grace is actually the pivotal character, the centre of all the various webs and mysteries woven into this immensely enjoyable book.
Read it for the story.
Read it for the lyrical descriptions.
And prepare to be surprised.
“The House at Riverton” is published by Pan, and the paperback sells for £7.99