Grace is the narrator of the story. Now 99 years old and living in a rest home, she has been visited by a young American film maker, Ursula, who is making a movie about an incident that took place at Riverton during the 1920s. At a ball, a young poet, Robbie, killed himself. He was at the centre of a love triangle involving the two sisters of the manor house, Hannah and Emmeline. Grace, at the time, was a lady's maid to Hannah, and as the only person still living from this tragic episode, is the only one Ursula can call upon for a first hand account.
Grace likes Ursula, and so decides to tell the story. At the same time she makes a tape recording to leave to her grandson Marcus, only child of her only child Ruth, with whom she has a prickly relationship. The telling of the tragic story, so long buried in Grace's memory and her forced remembrance of the part she herself played in the tragedy, is not easy for Grace but slowly, moving between the past and the present, Grace manages to come to a certain peace about the events that took place some 80 years earlier.
This narrative is only part of what is going on in this novel. Grace herself comes from unexplained beginnings which gradually emerge through the telling. Although I guessed fairly early on what had happened. It will also give too much of the plot away by elaborating further on the story line. What is less easily explained, and has also been picked up by numerous other reviewers, is how did Grace, in the course of her very long life, go from being a lady's maid to a famous archaeologist! We know women can do anything, but this does seem rather a long stretch of the imagination for the times. But never mind. Sometimes you have to suspend belief when the rest of the story catches your imagination. And it is a good story, twists and turns, dominated by the mistress/servant relationship between Hannah and Grace which ultimately leads to the tragic events.
It does, however, take a lot of pages before we finally get to learn what really happened the night of Robbie's death. Too many pages really, it sort of does drag along a bit. But plenty of intrigue, a vivid portrayal of life between the wars, for those upstairs and downstairs, romance, betrayal, passion. It is still most enjoyable!