Since I've started reading more than one book at a time - since I've been writing this blog, really - I've begun to notice similarities between the books. A few weeks ago I realized that through no plan at all I was reading three books that all tied together through the presence of servants. I was reading Miss Pettigrew in which Miss P has worked as a governess and is looking for another post. This book was much too nice to cart back and forth to work so I added The House at Riverton to the mix since it was both portable and a comfort read as I was feeling ill. I also found myself immersed in a nonfiction title, One Pair of Hands. I topped all that off by watching Manor House, also known as The Edwardian Country House in the UK. Manor House is another edition in PBS's house series dealing obviously with Edwardian times and the Upstairs/Downstairs issues that came along with it. I enjoyed the program, though not quite as much as The 1940s House. There are so many people in Manor House it is difficult to get to know them as well. It is a fascinating program though, particularly because it seemed the Lord and Lady of the Manor took to their roles a bit too easily and would have happily lived on in the house. The servants on the other hand had it much worse. It's hard to imagine signing up for this program and just cleaning and cooking for three months straight. Though I think they came out of it with a better understanding of the period.
On to the books.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton is one of those books that just kept popping up all over the place, mainly on UK blogs. I just knew I had to have this one so I ordered it from The Book Depository though it seems this book is being published now in the US. House at Riverton is told from the point of view of Grace, an elderly woman who went into service as a young girl. She became quite attached to the family and the daughters in particular. At the end of her life she is being interviewed by a film-maker who is working on a project dealing with a suicide at Riverton that drove a divide between the sisters. It is obvious Grace knows something about the suicide that no one else has ever found out. This was an enjoyable read for me but I never fell in love with it. I liked the story and the writing but at times I felt the book was weighed down by dialogue. There is one instance I recall in which the sisters discuss for several pages what color dress to wear - it just didn't seem to move the story along at all. I also felt the ending was a bit abrupt after such a long book. Overall this was a good comfort read and I would recommend it. There is a nice Author's Note at the end with loads of additional reading suggestions about the period.
Monica Dickens was Charles Dickens' great-granddaughter and wrote One Pair of Hands in 1939 after putting herself into service. I was never quite certain how well-to-do her family was, but it seems she was bored with the party scene and was looking for another way to spend her time. Dickens writes about multiple households that she cooks and cleans for and the situations that ensue. On the one hand this is a fascinating book in terms of learning how people lived and ate at that time. So many people had help in their homes, both small and large. It's hard to imagine there being someone else in my home everyday, just a room away, cooking and cleaning up. On the other hand, this is quite the comedy and Dickens' skill in recreating her various employers is brilliant. For me, this book was better read in short bits rather than large, but was overall immensely entertaining.