Title: The Hundred-Year House
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone
Date of Publication: 31 July 2014
Number of Pages: 352
Rating: 2 stars
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Summary: 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.
Review: At 14% I was unsure of what to make of Makkai’s second novel. The characters were obnoxious, vaguely constructed and completely unlikeable. Zee is uptight and full of herself. Doug is lazy and kind of vapid. Gracie is stupid and Bruce is the kind of person you would go out of your way to avoid. I feel as though some of this is Fitzgerald-Gatsby-esque where the reader isn’t supposed to like any of the characters; have any sympathy for them. I feel as though I have invaded a space where no one likes anyone else and if the characters discover me snooping in their world, they won’t like me either. It is an uncomfortable place to be.
At 38% something finally happens to provide background and context.
At 44% the first revelation has been completed and the reader is back to waiting for plot to resume.
At 52% such was my frustration with the characters that I found it difficult to care what happened when the time shift occurred and we shift back a generation.
The idea of this book is a good one. The parts seem to come together but if feels as though too much time has been dedicated to a premise and the idea of construction than to the other elements essential for writing a complete novel. Overall, I found The Hundred-Year House disappointing but I would read Makkai’s work in the future.