The House at Riverton

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The House at Riverton
Author Kate Morton
Original title Also released as
The Shifting Fog
Country Australia, United Kingdom
Language English language
Genre Novel
Publisher Pan Macmillan (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Followed by The Forgotten Garden

The House at Riverton is the first novel by Australian author Kate Morton, published in the United Kingdom by Pan Macmillan in June 2007. It has been selected as a Summer Read by the Richard & Judy Book Club, and was featured on Channel 4's Richard & Judy Show on Wednesday 18 July 2007. Subsequently, it was the 2007 winner of the Summer read shortlist. It has also been chosen for the First Look Book Club on Barnes & Noble before its release in the United States. An edition of the book was published by Allen & Unwin under the title of The Shifting Fog. It sold 63,218 copies in its first week of release in the United Kingdom.[1]


The House at Riverton tells the story of Grace Bradley, 99, who was a maid at Riverton Manor during the 1920s. For years Grace has hidden a terrible secret. Now a film is being made about a famous incident at Riverton when a well-known poet, Robbie Hunter, shot himself. Grace is contacted by the director, Ursula, as the only surviving person from that night. Grace's memories are stirred up and she decides to make a tape for her grandson, Marcus, sharing her secret with him.

As a young girl, Grace is sent to work at Riverton. She first meets the grandchildren of Riverton, David, Hannah and Emmeline, when they come to stay at Riverton. She immediately feels a connection with them, Hannah in particular. It is later revealed that Grace is a half-sibling to the children. Grace suspects Hannah knows this, but even after Grace deduces her parentage, she does not say anything to Hannah. It is one of many secrets in the novel. Hannah and Grace's relationship is strengthened by the unsaid understandings they have about each other.

One Christmas, David brings home a school friend, Robbie Hunter. Eleven-year-old Emmeline is infatuated, but 15-year-old Hannah is less impressed. Nearly ten years later, after David has been killed in WWI, Robbie finds Hannah to return a book she had given her brother. Hannah is living in London and unhappily married to an older businessman; Robbie provides a glimpse of the life she wanted to have. They fall in love and begin an affair.

Emmeline, who has grown into a beautiful woman and one of the Bright Young People, prefers London society and often stays with Hannah. She provides Robbie and Hannah the excuse they need to see each other, as Robbie ostensibly calls on Emmeline but is really slipping notes to Hannah with the locations and times for them to meet.

Robbie is suffering shell-shock from the War and is deeply in love with Hannah. He wants them to run away and begin new lives together. She assists in planning their escape to appease him, but does not believe they can elope, and is further convinced when her husband announces his plans to relocate them back to Riverton.

To celebrate the revival of Riverton, Hannah and her husband plan an extravagant midsummer gala. During the party Grace goes to her room and finds two letters from Hannah. The one addressed to her is in shorthand, which Hannah mistakenly believes Grace can read, a this misunderstanding being the foundation of the strong connection between the two. Grace opens the second letter addressed to Emmeline; it is a suicide note saying that Hannah will have drowned herself in the lake by the time the letter is read.

Grace rushes to find Emmeline, and takes her down to the lake to see if they can stop Hannah. At the lake they see Hannah who passes it off as a game when questioned. As Grace and Emmeline are about to head back to the house, Robbie emerges from the newly built summerhouse, carrying a suitcase.

Emmeline thinks he has come to see her until it becomes apparent that he and Hannah are in love, and they are going to run away together. Emmeline becomes very jealous, pulls a handgun from her jacket pocket and threatens to shoot herself. Hannah wrestles the gun from her. Fireworks are going off all around them and each loud bang affects Robbie further, taking him back to his time in the trenches. He shouts at Hannah to shoot Emmeline before she ruins their plans. As both Emmeline and Robbie are rushing to her, at the last minute Hannah shoots Robbie to save her sister. Hearing people coming, Emmeline takes control, tells Grace to take Hannah's bags up to the house quickly and announces that Robbie has shot himself.

The police find no suspicious circumstances and Emmeline returns to London where she continues to enjoy the high life until she is killed in a car accident.

Hannah is depressed and distant. One day Hannah tells Grace that she knows Grace can't read shorthand, the reason for which Grace does not know at the time. Hannah falls pregnant, despite previous failures to conceive with her husband. There are complications during the birth and she dies. The baby, Florence, has Robbie's eyes, confirming her parentage to Hannah's husband and his family. Baby Florence is sent to live with Hannah's aunt in America.

Some years later Grace learns what was in the shorthand letter from Hannah. It explained that Hannah and Robbie were planning to run away together, but in order to do this she must fake her death, hence the suicide note left for Emmeline. Grace was to give the letter to Emmeline after the party to give them chance to get away. Hannah was planning to write to Emmeline once they got themselves settled somewhere. Grace has carried this guilt throughout her life. Having finally told the truth via the tapes to her grandson, she is able to die in peace.


In the past 1914–1924
  • Grace Reeves
  • Hannah Hartford
  • Emmeline Hartford
  • David Hartford
  • Lord Ashbury
  • Lady Ashbury/Lady Violet (inconsistency in title - she could not be both Lady Violet and Lady Ashbury)
  • Major Jonathon
  • Mr Frederick
  • Robbie Hunter
  • Theodore Luxton/Teddy
  • Lady Jemima Hartford (sometimes incorrectly referred to as Mrs Hartford)
  • Lady Clementine
  • Fanny
  • Deborah Luxton/Deb
  • Nancy
  • Mr Hamilton
  • Mrs Townsend
  • Myra
  • Katie
  • Alfred
  • Mr Dawkins
  • Mr Dudley
In the present 1999
  • Grace Bradley (Reeves)
  • Ruth
  • Ursula
  • Marcus
  • Sylvia

See also[edit]

  • Ulysses (novel) mentioned as a banned publication that Robbie obtains for Hannah.


  1. ^ The Telegraph 27 December 2007 Cleland, Gary (27 December 2007). "Ten authors eyeing a Richard and Judy pay day". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 25 May 2010.