Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred-Year House is a stunning achievement. The story is like an archaeological dig into the history of a house with many secrets. It leaves the reader plummeting through space and time, weaving a narrative with such depth and passion that it cannot be ignored. With nods to the gothic tradition, the story is not one of ghosts, but one of the inextricable link between past and present. It is a treasure hunt on the highest order and readers will find themselves engulfed and intrigued by the twists and turns. The dark secrets of the Devohr family far surpass what the reader first deems possible.
The story is fundamentally a generational saga about an aristocratic family who were once the patrons of a great art colony. The story is told backwards, starting in 1999. It then moves to 1955 and then back to the 1929. The prologue, placed at the end of the book, begins in 1900. It was the beginning of the century, and also the beginning of the misfortunes that would continue to befall the Devohr family. The story of a ghost in the house turns out to be the tamest of all specters haunting the halls of Laurelfield. One of the artists in residence at the colony explains the haunting power of the house:
“Zilla realizes something, and it takes her a minute to wrap herself around the idea. She’s always thought of Laurelfield as a magnet, drawing her back again and again. But that’s just it: A magnet pulls you toward the future. Objects are normally products of their pasts, their composition and inertia. But near a magnet, they are moved by where they’ll be in the next instant. And this, this, is the core of the strange vertigo she feels near Laurelfield. This is a place where people aren’t so much haunted by their pasts as they are unknowingly hurtled toward specific and inexorable destinations.”
The destinations where the characters are pulled will leave readers shocked and satisfied.
This novel is impossible to put down. There are too many mysteries even for the author to reveal. The curious reader will—no doubt—devour this book. The descriptions of the house and the family bring to mind an aristocracy which most people will never come in contact with first hand. But the stark contrast between the artists and the family humanizes the house and everyone in it. The house itself seems to have a magnetic quality which sucks in both unwitting artists and readers alike.
If mystery, intrigue, and family drama excite your senses, then this is certainly a worthy read. Buy this book and save it for a rainy autumn day. The well-crafted storytelling and dark twists will not disappoint.