Summer 1924: On the eve of a glittering Society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken, and memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog is an alternate title) is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.
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©2006 Kate Morton; (P)2006 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
A Richard and Judy Book Club selection.
In the genre of romantic and nostalgic love stories this book is one of the best I have ever read because it is written with much subtlety and fine nuances: we learn a great deal about the psychological interchange between the old and the young; what life was really like before and after WW I; the contrasting viewpoints of Grace, the young and Grace, the old narrator; well-drawn portraits of several servants with very differing viewpoints; striking depictions of the two sisters around whom the riveting plot develops.
Unlike in the superficial romantic love stories, there are not many happy endings in this novel. The story could really have happened. It is very life-like and full of irony.
And finally to the audio rendition by Caroline Lee: Australian twang? Yes, a little bit, but not to the extent that it would detract from the fact that she is a brilliant, sophisticated reader who draws you into the story immediately and holds your attention the whole time. I hope I'll find other books on Audible read by her.
I really enjoyed this story, old Grace's descriptions of life in service and her relationships with those upstairs blended well with young Grace's innocence and naivety and I found the switching between past and present engaging. I cared about the outcome for old Grace just as much as I was interested in her story of the past. As the story unfolded I found I couldn't wait to plug my earphones in and listen to the next chapters. I did find the Australian narrator's attempts at the Essex accent a little bit annoying at times and I would have preferred an English narrator but not so much to distract from the story.
Always looking for a great audible read...........
Upstairs Downstairs with an Australian twang from the narrator. I enjoyed this book, but I felt the characters lacked depth - Grace in her 90's reflects on her life as a young servant and the events that took place ......... I wanted to know the older Graces perspective on things. What in her latter years did she think about the hierarchy in which she had grown up, what did she think of the poverty, the inequality and injustice......... but the story is told 'as was' with little reflective analysis which unfortunately makes her and the other characters seem one dimensional.
I enjoyed the author's book The Secret Keeper but was very disappointed by the House at Riverton. It badly needed editing to remove the masses of details that swamp a story of upstairs/downstairs life before, during and after the First World War told in retrospect by an elderly former maid of the house at Riverton. The author has evidently done a lot of background research but unfortunately felt the need to incorporate too much of it into her narrative. For example, a conversation between two lovers has digressions into tug boats on the Thames, allusions to the coal industry and to painters of the time. I didn't need to know the detailed descriptions of decor, the clothes and hairstyle of a transient character never heard of again or learn what a person was doing with her knife and fork. I wished the author would get on with the story without all this descriptive baggage. A story that wasn't original or powerful enough to merit over 18 hours of listening.
The writing is overly descriptive: "as if" and "like" appear frequently leaving little to the listener/reader's imagination. I can imagine someone smiling without a sunbeam glancing on their cheek for emphasis. Despite a surfeit of description the characters are 2-dimensional stereotypes: obsequious servants and demanding masters.
I wouldn't have continued if I had been reading the book but I like to have a voice for company when I'm out walking or doing housework and if my mind wandered I didn't miss much.
The reader is very good and injected more life into the characters than the author.
This book has divided opinion and, to be fair more like it than dislike it, but if you prefer a story to have some pace I'd advise you to avoid this book.
A strong flowing narrative which captured and held my attention. Each day I found myself looking forward to an enjoyable and colourful escape to the past and the events before, during and after the great war. The links between past and present work well as the elderly Grace slowly reveals her story. The ending is perhaps a little predictable but doesn?t detract from a satisfying tale. And this Australian thought the Australian narrator was clear and easy to listen to.
Eclectic taste in audiobooks, particular thirst to discover Classics I'd otherwise never get around to reading in physical book format!
Guilt, service, repression.
When Hannah and Robbie's re-acquaintance starts to show the strain of his wartime experience, and as a reader you realise this won't end well.
I have a couple more of her recordings and she's very good at long stretches of prose and narrative exposition, and she expresses emotion well in dialogue, although sometimes the voices she chooses for characters are a little whiny and grating (children and older men in particular). I really enjoy hearing Australian authors being recorded by an Australian narrator, and I would happily purchase audiobooks by her again, and indeed by Kate Morton.
Grace and favour
I couldn't help notice the narrative comparisons with Titanic - an elderly woman telling the story of her tragic youth, effectively from her death bed - and the way the younger characters she relates to as an old woman are not very well drawn (surely a criticism everyone levels at Titanic) but functional as devices to move the story along (Grace recording her tale on the Dictaphone for her Grandson). It is a gripping yarn, though, very well written and an absorbing depiction of early 20th century society - I had just read Testament of Youth, so the first world war period was fresh in my mind, and Hannah's relationships with her siblings as children are similar to Vera Brittain's with her friends, destined to alter tragically during the course of the war. Of course many scenes are also very reminiscent of the Downton Abbey household, and I'm sure this will have a TV mini-series of its own one day.
I enjoyed the period atmosphere engendered, and even the switches from past to present. However the book was a little bit too long for its own good, and I would have preferred to learn more about Grace's life after Riverton, snatches of which were offered. The reader was pleasant and managed the characters well.
The narrator! An enjoyable story is spoiled by her woeful attempts at English accents. She isn't too bad at the upperclass voices -- though at times she seems to forget to do them altogether -- but the servants are painful to hear. Also, she pronounces the "th" in Anthony. I don't think I have ever heard this done in the UK. Surely there are some English actors in Australia who could have been used instead.
Yes, if read by someone else.
She is Australian. I very nearly gave up but the story drew me in.
Yes gripping and beautifully written and read
All of it fabulous emotional read
Film of the year
"superbly written mystery"
This is my first review and I don't like reading long reviews, so this will be very brief. The writing style is classy, the story and characters drag you into their world so you don't want to stop listening. You may think you know, but you don't know how it will end until the very end. All in all a very tight story, classic mystery setting, believable characters and compelling pace. (and it was on SALE!)
I can see this being too slow for people who are only looking for the solving of the mystery at the end, but this is a beautiful book with incredible historical and personal details. If you are prepared to enjoy the journey and the stories of the lives involved, this book is well worth reading and the ending makes it very complete.
"Took a while to engage, but worth it."
The first third of the book is spent with little movement, setting up the settings and the era and the main characters, and it maybe could have been handled better. It drags early on, and some of the prose reaches too far.
About a third of the way through, the central mystery and conflicts begin to take hold, and while it is never a thriller, the characters and settings begin to have something to do, and you begin to care what happens next. The setup pays off as the tapestry of the novel flows from lordly manors to wealthy London houses, from traditional ideas of class to progressive struggles with early 20th century feminism and the labor movement. The setting never overtakes the characters, but complements them and defines them as they pull through the conflicts of the book.
By the end I was completely engaged, unable to put the book down. It's probably not for everyone, but it's an effective period piece with an intriguing mystery and vivid characters, and the reader is tremendous. Well worth it.
I also think this is one of the best books I've heard. The characters are fascinating. You aren't really drawn in by a plot, but by the very human relating and foilables, such as we all have. I'd say the main theme is how such little deceptions cause such major events in life. There is suspense about how it all happened and the flash back from old age is done remarkably well. The reader has such a colorful voice. The little characteristics of her words become very special in her telling of the story. I'd give more than 5 stars if I could!
This is one of the best books I have listened to (or read) in a very long time. I had a tough time getting into this book and found the narration to be monotonous at first. However, once I started to understand the connections and relationships between all of the characters, I couldn't stop listening! When I finished the book, I felt positively breathless and couldn't wait to recommend it to others. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it yesterday. The only reason that I rated this book at 4 stars is because it was a little difficult to get in to. I would have rated it 4.95 stars if it were possible!
"Great for Masterpiece fans"
This story is for those who love the multi-episode Masterpiece Theater British Empire stories with large casts of upper and working class characters. Readers who become impatient with long detailed descriptions of people, landscapes or locations will not do well with this book. The plot does unfold methodically with clues sprinkled throughout hinting at future events. I love that kind of story telling if the narrative is well written, and in this case it was very well written indeed. I loved the insights into the downstairs staff, the pre and post WWI society, and came to love all of the main players. For me, any of my credits are an investment of time and attention. This was a well spent credit.
My first experience with Kate Morton was The Forgotten Garden (WONDERFUL), so I thought I would give The Shifting Fog, A.K.A. The House at Riverton, a try. I really enjoyed it, and I loved the fact it was told through the eyes of Grace, although you dont really know what part Grace plays in the story at beginning. But true to Kate Morton, there are lots of twists and turns and just when you think you know what is going to happen, you find out you were not quite right. If youre an avid reader (listener) like me, that is quite a feat, to surprise me in the slightest. The narration is done by Caroline Lee, the same as in the Forgotten Garden, in which she was great, and she is good in this, but the Australian accent doesnt quite fit sometimes.
I would say this is definitely a credit worthy listen, and I will go back and listen to it again. I definitely recommend it.
"Engrossing love story and view of the early 1920s"
A finely detailed novel told from the present by the central character with long flashbacks to the time of the events. This was done so well it actually added to the understanding of the story. This is not a "quick" read but a delicious view of English life at the finish of WWI and the early 1920s.
The further I got into the story the more I felt as though I was living at the same time with the characters. It was uncanny. You began to understand the impact of the social mores of the time and the clashing changes brought about by the war.
Initially I found the narrator a bit difficult to follow so far as which character was which. However, once you get the relationships and such straight, the narrator does a great job of putting you in the middle of the story. I was sorry to have it end and would have loved to hear even more about the central character's life. I'd even like to re-listen to see which bits I overlooked that might have foreshadowed the various events.
If you are into unabridged, thoroughly detailed novels this is definitely for you!
"A Very Welcome Surprise"
First of all, to say that "this sort of book" is beyond my usual audible diet would, to put it kindly, be a rather drastic understatement. My latest favorites generally involved spaceships, wizardry, and engines of destruction of all shapes and sizes. What this book offered by contrast was something I found by turns so much more engaging, exotic, and frightening; it was a story about people.
Other reviewers have pointed out why you might not like this book. This is not a mystery, in that finding out the big secret isn't really the point. You won't need a map and sextant to figure out where this boat is going, but the reefs and shoals along the way might catch you unawares. Where the author excels though, is with the characters. This book takes its time, introducing you to the members of its cast, allowing you to meet them and live with them, to grow comfortable and familiar before putting you and them through the travails of the Great War and the 1920s. Along the way you'll see what it was like to live and work on a country estate in early Twentieth Century England, witness the garish bustle of the 1920s London social scene, and get a taste of what the division between rich and poor used to mean.
Caroline Lee's reading was exemplary, giving the first person narrative real life and lending voice to each character. I finished the book in a weekend, including one sleepless night. Within a few hours, I'd come to know the people of Ms. Morton's world, decided which I liked, would cheer for, and mourn; it's that kind of book. By the end, Grace felt like a wise and noble fellow traveler. Her triumphs were celebrated, and her guilt, became a genuine source of sorrow.
I heartily recommend this story.
Oh my goodness, so many people liked this book - I really wanted to like it too! However I found it painfully slow! The choice of an Australian narrator ruined this book for me. It is set in England, the characters should be English!
I hoped this book would be engaging, instead listening it was a chore, my mind wandered and became easily distracted. I managed to listen to it and rewind and listen to it again, for 4 hours. I hate to waste my audible credits; each one is precious so I wish I had not bought this book.
Looking over previous reviews people seem to love it or hate it. I hope you love it but I didn’t.
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