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Cambridge University Library

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The Really Popular Book Club is the reading group hosted by Cambridge University Libraries. Everyone is invited to join us and our special guests to discuss a really popular book, one that we all know and perhaps or perhaps not love.

This September we’ll be discussing Kate Morton’s debut novel, The House at Riverton; a multimillion-copy bestselling thriller and love-story. Set in the decadent twenties between World War I and World War II, it is the story of an aristocratic family, a country manor, and a mysterious suicide, told in flashback by the maid, Grace, who witnessed it all and held onto the secret all her life… until now.

The House at Riverton is a rich concoction that offers the elements that readers expect from the English country-house genre but manages to keep the narrative engaging by unfolding the story into the present day, allowing us to see the past as something that is still painfully alive for Grace even though for others it becomes merely a source of potential entertainment or amusement.

Our special guest for the evening is Phyllis Richardson; author of House of Fiction which looks at connections between fictional houses and their real-life inspirations. Phyllis is also the co-ordinator of the Foundation Year of the Integrated Degree in English Literature at Goldsmiths.

About the country-house genre, Phyllis says: ‘The English country-house novel is like a certain kind of English Christmas cake. It has a long tradition and may use a variety of ingredients, but there are some essentials necessary to get that warm, enchanting spicy flavour that people find so irresistible, even though they’ve eaten it many times before. (Here, I must give credit to Agatha Christie’s ‘Adventure of the Christmas Pudding’, a country-house mystery, for my metaphorical inspiration.) There is the setting (a country house with many rooms), the family (usually with a guilty secret), the servants (who know more than they should) and the people - family, visitors, mysterious strangers - who populate the house and draw us into its public, private and hidden spaces.’

As well as hearing from Phyllis about her thoughts and observations on the novel, we will open the floor to you, our club members, to share your own thoughts and observations. To get you thinking and to help prepare any comments or questions you might want to share, we have prepared three starter questions:

1. Kate Morton explains at some length the kind of research she undertook to give her the background for her novel. How important is it that a country house novel take place in the past? What might it look like in a futuristic setting?

2. Why the English country house? What is it that readers find so compelling about stories set in and around these historical/cultural artefacts that are so quintessentially English?

3. How much do the restrictions/limitations put on women in this period determine the tragedy of the story?

Before attending the event, we suggest you take a look at our FAQs. These can be found here.

Where: Online via Zoom Meetings

Registration: Required, free: REGISTER HERE

Date: Tuesday 28 September 2021