the hundred-year house

the hundred year house//wanderaven

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

The Hundred-Year House is great fun. Consider a novel that ends with a prologue.

We start in 1999 when two young couples, because of financial circumstances and family ties, move into and share a coach house on their parent's (and in-law's) estate.

Then, to 1955, where we discover the young marriage of Grace, the mother/mother-in-law from 1999.

1929, next, when Grace is a four year old child and the estate was an artists's colony.

And finally, the brief prologue with a glimpse at Grace's grandmother and the beginnings of the home.

Some reviews of this book may suggest ghosts and hauntings, and it is true that Grace's grandmother, Violet, is witness to all of these generations and friends and families over the years from her vantage point of a fantastic portrait on the wall. But the scraps of haunting are minimal and flitting. Certainly, do not expect horror or clearly defined ghosts from this one.

This story is more about the house itself, and the people attached to it in some way, either against their will or by emotional ties. I realized, while finishing the book, that while each character tends to have a one-sided positive or negative experience with the home, on the whole, the history of the home balances out.

It is a bit darker than the cover might suggest, though not terribly. The progression of the story is a bit like a murder mystery, one that's set in a remote house somewhere, but there is not a murder, per se (well, not intentionally, anyway). I did have a few talk-outloud-to-the-book moments of, "Oh, I'll bet I know who that person is!" or "No, no, no, don't do that..."

There's some romance throughout the book, some moments I felt more keenly than others. There's a couple of scenes, particularly in 1929, where there wasn't much room given for development of a couple of budding romances/lusts but in that short time, Makkai created a stronger sense of attraction and emotional attachment than I've seen other authors not be able to pull off in an entire book.

Some of the lyricalness of this story:

Still, in October, to dress in flowing black like that, hunched at the waist against the wind, the woman was rather asking to be burned at the stake.

She found five fallen oak leaves outside, early jumpers, stuck together with rain, not brown so much as opally pink, blushing at their early demise. And this is what she wanted to express now: a stack of soft, lovely suicides.

'Let me tell you something, though,' he said, in a voice that wasn't at all asking permission to let it tell you something.

I am one of those readers who tends to like all the loose ends neatly cinched up and presented to me. Although this wasn't the case for this novel, I was okay with that in this situation. Some of those frayed ends can be inferred by some of the given information, some of them feel a bit frustrating that they weren't definitively singed, but I was still okay with it.

I was vaguely aware of Makkai's debut novel, The Borrower, when it came out a couple of years ago and was interested but didn't manage it then. Because I knew I was interested, though, I took Viking up on their 0pportunity to be an early reviewer for this book. I've now added The Borrower to my library holds and will be watching for her future releases, for certain.

The flow of the story, the characters, the house, were all welcoming presences in my life for a few days (I even found myself with my reader propped up while making dinner, which could've been why I managed to mangle a rather simple cake...)