I love Kate Morton’s books. The first one I read, about 2 years ago now, was The Forgotten Garden. It was her second novel, and spans several time periods to discover the history of a girl abandoned on a ship sailing for Australia in 1913. It is not told in chronological order, and moves between the little girl, Nell, and her granddaughter Cassandra as they both travel to England and investigate Nell’s past as tied to the Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the way it wove two different time periods together. If told in chronological order, the story may have been interesting but there would have been no mystery. This way of telling the story does not feel contrived, however, or as if the writer is telling the story out of order simply to confuse the reader with an elaborate plot.
The same is true of Morton’s third book, The Distant Hours, which I read last year.This one has more of a Gothic element. Though the story takes place in both present-day and the relatively modern World War II era, it still has clear ties to the more distant and mysterious past.
It was not until I read Daphne du Maurier’s book Rebecca for the first time a couple weeks ago that I realized what a great influence her writing style had been on Kate Morton (the inside cover of the dust jacket on one of Morton’s books even references du Maurier). A mystery uncovered through flash-backs. A young woman who discovers the past is even darker and more convoluted than she imagined. An ancestral home filled with secrets.
And that brings us to Kate Morton’s first novel, The House At Riverton, which I finally started reading. I’m about 2/3 of the way through now. This most likely means that I’m at the point in the book where I think I have everything pretty much figured out, and all my suppositions are about to be turned upside down. As I read this book, I realize another reason I love Morton’s writing style — there isn’t an extraneous scene in the book. Everything that happens builds the plot or contributes to essential character development. In novels this size (the shortest is 480 pages), that is an achievement.
I’m enjoying this novel quite a lot, partly for the reason that Morton’s writing style is just as enjoyable in her first novel as in later works, and partly because of the many parallels with Dowton Abbey (Morton’s book was published 3 years before the first season aired, so any similarities are coincidence or the script-writer pilfering from her). Unlike the other two novels, where one character in the present is investigating another in the past, the 98-year-old narrator of this book is looking back on her own life and telling her secrets to her grandson and a film maker.
There is one more novel to read once I finish this one, Morton’s latest book The Secret Keeper. I think I will wait a little while before reading it, though, perhaps a whole year like I did in between her other books. I don’t like the thought of not having another one waiting for me when that one is over.