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Book review: <i>The Hundred Year House</i> by Rebecca Makkai

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Book review: The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai

the cover of the book

Some houses have a history. People believe the Devohr mansion is haunted, but nobody knows the whole ghost story...

The story

Violet Saville Devohr was the first lady of Laurelfield, literally and figuratively. Her portrait hangs over the main room imposingly, and her very existence overwhelmed Zee Devohr Grant, her granddaughter, from childhood. Zee knew the story. Everyone did. Violet was the family suicide, the family ghost. She hung around Laurelfield, the painting of her so lifelike it was upsetting. Zee had always been fascinated by Violet, and remained that way when hard times struck and she and her husband returned to her childhood home to live in the coach house, just down from the main house where her parents stayed.

Zee got work at the local university, playing politics with the best of them to try and secure a position for her long suffering husband, Doug. Doug was writing a seminal piece of history about the poet Edwin Parfitt, a modernist who was known for one particular poem and his spectacular suicide. Doug agreed to the move mainly in the hope of investigating the attic at Laurelfield further. His wife's family home had previously been an artist's colony, in which none other than Edwin Parfitt resided for long periods of time. Zee's mother Grace had always been oddly reticent about allowing Doug access to the old files, but this time, he had a plan... and unlikely assistance.

Laurelfield, however, had its own plans for the residents. Zee's step-brother Case and his wife Miriam, also on equally hard times, moved into another section of the coach house. Doug and Miriam began to thrive creatively, while the house began to weigh heavily upon Zee and Case. Grace Devohr and her second husband Bruce let the kids work it out... it was all they could do. But as the threat of a new millennium began to weigh heavily upon the family, there was nothing for it but to have the secrets start spilling out.

A house with a history.

The style

I was contemplating how to best describe this book during the whole process of reading it, because I was curious about what makes something so simply written just so good. The Hundred Year House is the very definition of a page-turner. It's so well written it hurts. But when I try to figure out WHY it's well written, I can't really put my finger on it. The writing is breezy, not too serious with just the right amount of gravitas in the right places. It's funny, not laugh out loud funny, just replete with mildly ridiculous coincidences and slightly over the top scenarios (I say over the top, but what I mean is, it could all be true in a truth-stranger-than-ficiton type way). The characters are all just right, and that's really all I can say about them. And, this is my favourite thing about it, the story line is deceptively simple, while in fact being very detailed and complex with a selection of glorious coincidences and twists and turns in the hundred year history of the house.

What I'm saying is, there are no wasted words, I was never brought out of the reading experience by a mis-turned phrase, and I was disappointed when it was over even though we'd reached a logical conclusion. This is basically the perfectly written book.

Who is this book for?

Do you love the contemporary literature genre but have trouble figuring out what to read because so much crap gets lumped in there and now you feel nervous about the suggestions Amazon throws at you? Look no further. Hundred Year House. Ultimate contemporary literature. Disappointment free zone.

If you like this book, you would also like...

I hear Rebecca Makkai wrote a book before this, and I'm basically going to buy it immediately. I'll let you know how it goes.

In short

Title: The Hundred Year House
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0525426684
Year published: 2014
Pages: 352
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: