Thursday, February 24, 2011

The House at Riverton

Do you believe in the kind of altruism that would cause a person to give up her own happiness in order to serve another and never even tell that other person what she'd done?  Can you possibly believe in a nineteenth-century female character who would make plans to run away with the love of her life and then shoot him because she thought he was threatening her sister?  If so, have I got a shaggy dog story of a novel for you!

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton, is intriguingly structured, with the story of what happened to the narrator's employers told at the end of their former housemaid's life.  And some of the dialogue is fun:
"I'm tired of reciting The Lady of Shalott while she snivels into her handkerchief."
"She's crying for her own lost love," Emmeline said with a sigh.
Hannah rolled her eyes.
"It's true!" Emmeline said. "I heard Grandmama tell Lady Clem. Before she came to us, Miss Prince was engaged to be married."
"Came to his senses, I suppose," Hannah said.
"He married her sister instead," Emmeline said.
This silenced Hannah, but only briefly. "She should have sued him for breach of promise."
"That's what Lady Clem said--and worse--but Grandmama said Miss Prince didn't want to cause him trouble."
"Then she's a fool," Hannah said. "She's better off without him."
"What a romantic," David said archly. "The poor lady's hopelessly in love with a man she can't have and you begrudge reading her the occasional piece of sad poetry. Cruelty, thy name is Hannah."
But, as in this passage, the foreshadowing is unrelentingly heavy-handed.  Yes, these sisters will end up quarreling over the same man! Surprise!

The writing only occasionally takes on the flavor of the early twentieth century, with bits of odd nineteenth-century tone completely pulling me out of the story:
"It is a universal truth that no matter how well one knows a scene, to observe it from above is something of a revelation."

In the end, what happens is simply unbelievable. People do not act like this, no matter how much the narrator protests that they were different back then.  I felt cheated that I had actually read more than 400 pages, only to have such a wildly improbable ending thrust upon me.  It was like listening to one of those shaggy dog stories that goes on and on and then has a stupid ending, and you discover that the only funny thing is that you actually listened to that nonsense for so long.


Care said...

Oooo, ouch.

FreshHell said...

Yikes. I turned my bit of nonsense back in to the library yesterday. Cut my losses, I did.

Sarah said...

Yeah, I didn't much like the ending of Riverton either. Kate Morten's other book (The Forgotten Garden) is MUCH better, though.

Karenlibrarian said...

That is annoying -- when you've read an entire book and feel cheated, like you want those hours back. I felt the same way last year after reading Edgar Sawtelle. I have so many books I want to read I feel really picky. Thanks for the warning! However, The Forgotten Garden does look good and I've heard good things about it.

Kailana said...

I really liked The Forgotten Garden by her. Now I am curious what I will think of this one... I have it, but haven't read it yet

avisannschild said...

Hmm, I just finished reading her latest (The Distant Hours) and I loved it. I have this one sitting on my shelves and wonder how I will feel about it... (I have read mixed reviews of her novels, so I was pretty happy to enjoy TDH so much.)

avisannschild said...

Bah, I'm commenting again just to make sure follow-up comments are emailed to me. Blogger did something weird when I posted my first comment...

Nymeth said...

This is pretty much how I felt about The Forgotten Garden *shudders*. Morton is definitely NOT for me.

Jenny said...

Hahahahah, I totally know what you mean. I sensibly read the end, of course, so I was prepared for how silly it was going to be. The book was fun but not that good.

kittiesx3 said...

It must be contagious. I got a different book for this trip because I found Seabiscuit a total yawn. Which I didn't expect because I did enjoy Unbroken (same author).

Jenners said...

Love your honesty! I've heard all these raves about this author so I wanted to give her a try. But maybe not THIS book.

Jeanne said...

Care, why mince words?

FreshHell, You did the right thing. Bad books can infect your whole life with their badness.

Sarah, I'm afraid I'm going to have to apply the saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" about reading another by this author!

Karenlibrarian, since she wrote The Forgotten Garden after this one, I guess there's a chance the author got better, but I'm not inclined to give this author another chance.

Kailana and Avisannschild, If either of you do read this one, I'd be interested to hear what you think about the way she never really gets the tone to fit the time period.

Avisannschild, blogger was particularly badly behaved the day I posted this review. I am just not getting my money's worth out of this free service...

Nymeth, I'm glad to hear I'm not alone.

Jenny, why didn't I read the end first? You're so right; it would have been much more sensible! Now, there's a hint for anyone inclined to give this author another chance.

Elizabeth, I'm glad to hear you liked her second book, though, since I've been wondering about whether I should read it or not. The author has a Kenyon connection, so that always makes it a little more interesting for me.

Jenners, especially if you liked The Secret Garden as a child, everyone seems to agree that The Forgotten Garden would be a better one to start with.

My son told me the other day that I may be the most honest person he knows. This was almost a compliment, but it had an edge to it because he's a teenager!

kittiesx3 said...

Jeanne, I think the subject matter is what made Seabiscuit so dull to me. I just didn't give a rip about the family that apparently ends up with the horse. In fact I never even got to the horse. But Unbroken was very interesting to me on all fronts.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, I can never get my family to watch horse movies with me. At least I can read the books to my former adolescent girl's heart's content.

Monica said...

I recently read The Forgotten Garden so was hoping this was a favourable review. I enjoy light reads in between the classics.
Guess I'll skip this one then. :)

ink + chai

Jeanne said...

Monica, if you have liked Morton already, maybe you want to read forward from the one you liked. I can be a very demanding reader. One example is that there are spy novels my friends like that I can't read because the writing isn't good enough to keep me in the story.