It’s 1999, the new millennium is about to begin and the Devohr’s house is almost one hundred years old. At this time, it is home to Gracie and her husband Bruce. Gracie invited her Marxist scholar daughter, Zee, and her husband, Doug to live in the carriage house until they get on their feet. Zee teaches a class at the local university on haunted houses in literature while Doug works on his book about the poet Edwin Parfitt. Parfitt once stayed on the estate when it was an arts colony in the 20s.
Much to Zee and Doug’s dismay, Bruce asks his son, Case and his artist wife, Miriam to share lodgings with them in the carriage house. The two married couples try to cohabitate but secret jealousies threaten to destroy the already frayed relationships. Zee hatches an elaborate plan to find Doug a job at the university, which doesn’t end in the desired results. Meanwhile, Doug has been sneaking around the estate desperately trying to find out more about Parfitt’s stay at the house. As Y2K edges nearer, Doug unwittingly uncovers more of the house’s secrets than he bargained for, secrets that could ruin lives.
This is a complicated book to try to describe. It’s about a house, a haunted house, but the ghosts are the least interesting thing about the Devohr’s house. The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai begins in 1999, but leaps back in time to the 1950s, 1920s, and finally 1900 before the house was even built. It was interesting to learn the history of the house and its inhabitants this way. The people living in the house are influenced by the former residents in ways they don’t even know. Doug is obsessed by Parfitt, Zee by her great-grandmother’s supposed madness. Miriam feels the energy of the artists’ colony, and Case can’t get away from his bad luck which he sees as an omen. As the story progresses, ordinary objects reveal their importance, the answers to questions are hidden in plan sight. Only the reader can see it.
Part one is told from Zee and Doug’s point of view. Half their issues are a lack of communication. Part Two is Grace’s story of her terrible marriage to George. Part three was the most confusing, though the most revealing section, told from the point of view of the many artists in the colony. It was hard to keep everyone straight since there were so many voices. (And since this was an audiobook, I couldn’t flip back and forth.) And finally poor Violet’s story from the point of view of her husband. There were so many personal tragedies, yet I thought the first part of the story was often funny.
The Hundred-Year House is not a spooky story. It’s more about a haunted home’s memories than its ghosts. The ghosts are just stories, random unexplained happenings to are attributed to them. One of Zee’s students ask if it’s possible for a spirit from the future to haunt a place and this is proven to be true later in the book. I loved that idea and of course only the reader can recognize the ghost, the characters have no idea.
I completely fell for The Hundred-Year House. I loved the way it was told. It’s such an interesting way to write a story. You’re either going to love it or hate it. I say just roll with it. It will be fun. Now I have a dream of starting an artists’ colony. Do they even exist anymore? It sounds like good time.
About the Audio: Jen Tullock is the narrator. She really shines in part three where there are so many different characters. She tries to make them all sound distinctive. I particularly like the White Rabbits, who sound like a female Beavis and Butthead.
Thanks to Penguin Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.