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Summary and book reviews of The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

The Hundred-Year House

by Rebecca Makkai

The Hundred-Year House
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

The acclaimed author of The Borrower returns with a dazzlingly original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield.

Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents' wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there's Violet Devohr, Zee's great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room.

Violet's portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony - and this is exactly the period Zee's husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track - besides some motivation and self-esteem - is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn't, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head?that is, if they were to ever uncover them.

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer.

1

For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming. She had lived, she was unhappy, and she died by her own hand somewhere in that vast house. If the house hadn't been a mansion, if the death hadn't been a suicide, if Violet Devohr's dark, refined beauty hadn't smoldered down from that massive oil portrait, it wouldn't have been a ghost story at all. Beauty and wealth, it seems, get you as far in the afterlife as they do here on earth. We can't all afford to be ghosts.

In April, as they repainted the kitchen of the coach house, Zee told Doug more than she ever had about her years in the big house: how she'd spent her entire, ignorant youth there without feeling haunted in the slightest—until one summer, home from boarding school, when her mother had looked up from her shopping list to say, "You're pale. You're not depressed, are you? There's no reason to succumb to that. You know your great-...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The novel's unique structure and its vibrant characters make for active, exciting reading. Questions raised in one section are answered in others, creating a reading experience that might have you flipping back and forth through the pages. The Hundred-Year House is a puzzle, a plunge into a world of fascinating characters, and an examination of human relationships. It is not to be missed.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A lively and clever story...exceptionally well-constructed, with engaging characters...and delightful twists that surprise and satisfy.

Booklist

Starred Review. Her offbeat characters and suspenseful story could have added up to a stylish romp. Instead, Makkai offers that and much more as she stealthily investigates the complexities of ambition, sexism, violence, creativity, and love in this diverting yet richly dimensional novel.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This novel is stunning: ambitious, readable, and intriguing. Its gothic elements, complexity, and plot twists are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. Chilling and thoroughly enjoyable…A daring takeoff from her entertaining debut.

Author Blurb Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman's Tale
A mesmerizing story of self-reinvention that delights on every page, told with keen wit and a perceptive eye. Like the unforgettable characters in this gripping novel, Laurelfield will draw you into its spell.

Author Blurb B. A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger
The Hundred-Year House is a funny, sad and delightful romp through the beginning, middle and end of an artists' colony as well as the family mansion that sheltered it and the family members who do and don't survive it ... An ambitious work, well-realized.

Author Blurb Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane and A Disobedient Girl
Makkai fulfills the promise of her debut with this witty and darkly acerbic novel set in the rich soils of an artists' colony. The inverted timeline of the multi-generational narrative deepens the layered mysteries at its heart.

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Yaddo Artists' Retreat

Rebecca Makkai makes clear in her dedication that although nothing in The Hundred-Year House is based on her stay at Yaddo, a creative artists' retreat in Saratoga, New York, the book is indebted to the time and space they gave her to write it. Like Laurelfield, it was once a privately held estate.

Spencer Trask Yaddo was founded in 1900 by Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina, a poet. Their four children died in childhood, so the couple bequeathed the estate to artists to be used as a place to "nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work without interruption in a supportive environment." When the Trasks purchased the property in 1881, they named it "Yaddo" at their young daughter's suggestion. Even before Yaddo ...

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