I am not able to steer myself away from books that deal with the dying aristocracy in Britain before and during and after the World Wars. Or just books set in Britain before and during and after the World Wars (recently before and recently after, obviously; otherwise that would comprehend the whole of British history). I love them. I love books set in Britain in this time period even more than I love books set in the Victorian times. At least more reliably – there are some books with Victorian settings that are shocking tedious crap.
The House at Riverton is all about a woman called Grace who was a lady’s maid back in the day and is now in an old folks’ home talking to a film-maker about her history at Riverton; particularly, about the suicide of a young poet in front of the two Hartford sisters. Hannah, the older girl, has yearned for freedom all her life, while Emmeline, the younger, wants to marry and settle down.
The House at Riverton isn’t the best book of its kind imaginable. Although it’s clear that Hannah finds herself trapped, this book doesn’t do a fantastic job of creating sympathy for her. Taken out of context, some of the things she does are really unsympathetic, but it would have been fine if we’d really had a vivid sense of the way she’s trapped by her times. Not so much with that. Sarah Waters does it more better in Fingersmith. As well, some of the big reveals were predictable, and some of the plot devices strained credulity.
This is a guilty pleasure. I devoured it at Costa, on the Tube, on benches on the South Bank, and in bed before I went to sleep. Until about five-sixths of the way through, at which point, for some reason, the writing became madly choppy. I couldn’t enjoy the book anymore! Because the writing got so choppy! It was all things like this:
She’d never felt such rushing freedom. She turned her face towards the night sky; closed her eyes, felt the kiss of cold air on her warm lids, warm cheeks. She opened them again, looked for Robbie as they went. Longed to dance with him. Be held by him.
Then he started to call out and she was worried someone on the embankment might hear. Might come to their aid. Might contact someone. The police, or worse.
Seriously, there was so much of this, it was ridiculous.
That’s fine once or twice, but it was happening every second paragraph towards the end of the book. I don’t know it suddenly got like this, when it wasn’t doing that for the majority of the book. I didn’t like it. This is why God made editors. I know this book is long – did the writer and/or editor just get tired of making the effort as the book went on? Seriously, the writing was way better in the beginning.
Anyway, I can definitely see this book progressing to the status of comfort book, and I look forward to reading her second book, The Forgotten Garden, assuming it ever, ever gets in at the library.
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