Hallways in the past

I’ve long been a fan of books that begin in the present world – the world I know – but at some point usher me into some hallway of the past, perhaps for just a short detour or maybe to abandon me there altogether.

I gave it a whirl myself with The Shape of Mercy and found I really liked weaving a historical thread into my story. I have done the same thing with the upcoming White Picket Fences and next year’s Lady in Waiting.

Earlier this week I finished Aussie Kate Morton’s stunning The House at Riverton, an international bestseller that earned her a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Morton deftly weaves a tale that billows in and out of the past, seamlessly, effortlessly, skillfully. Just the way I like it.

Here’s the book’s premise: Grace Bradley is a teenager when she takes a position as a maid at Riverton House just prior to World War I. An only child, she finds herself emotionally bound to the Hartford family, especially the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering gala held at Riverton, a young poet shoots himself. The only witnesses are the sisters. When Grace is nearing her one-hundredth birthday and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a movie about the poet’s long-ago suicide. As Grace answers the director’s queries, the reader is whisked away in flashback to Grace’s youth, to the gilded days before the year and the haunting years after, and then gently led back to the present over and over to be tantalized by whispers of all that Grace knows about what really happened the night the poet died.

I loved how Morton eased the story along, planting just enough information to make me feel like a trusted confidant, but still itching to put all the pieces together. The scenes in the present never felt like intrusions, but rather moments to be let in on more of the dark secrets Grace has carried for eighty years.

Morton says: “The first part of the story that came to me was an image: a young man in the mid-1920s, standing by a dark lake on an English country estate. In the distance a party rages: fireworks, jazz music, people whooping. The young man closes his eyes, a gun sounds, and then the image fades to black. I knew that the scene would be the beginning of my book, and I also knew that though it felt like a suicide, there would be more to the young man’s story than that. That this would be the heart of my mystery.”

I liked the book so well (my mom recommended it to me) I started up with Morton’s second book, the newly released The Forgotten Garden a few nights ago.

And I just learned that Anita Diamant has a new book out. I loved The Red Tent and am looking forward to getting my hands on Day After Night.

Here’s the scoop on this one: “Anita Diamant’s new novel offers all the satisfactions found in her previous works The Red Tent and The Last Days of Dogtown: rich portraits of female friendship, unflinching acknowledgment of life’s cruelty and resolute assertion of hope, enfolded in a strong story line developed in lucid prose. She ups the ante here, chronicling three months in the lives of Jewish refugees interned in Atlit, a British detention center for illegal immigrants to the Palestinian Mandate. Based on an actual event—the rescue of more than 200 detainees from Atlit in October 1945—Day After Night demonstrates the power of fiction to illuminate the souls of people battered by the forces of history.”


(So many books, so little time!)

So what are you reading these days?

Author: Susan

This post has 2 Comments

  1. Carolyn McCready on September 18, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Susan,
    The House at Riverton sounds great! I can't wait to read it. Have you read The Help yet? I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Have a lovely day!


  2. Susan Meissner on September 19, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I loved, loved, loved The Help. I heard the author speak at a local bookstore here. Her sweet accent just makes you want to drink gallons of sweet tea!

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