The Hundred-Year House: A Novel

The Hundred-Year House: A Novel

by Rebecca Makkai

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143127444
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/26/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 349,484
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rebecca Makkai is the author of the acclaimed novels The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower, an Indie Next pick, an O, The Oprah Magazine Fall Reading selection, a Booklist Top Ten Debut, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), Best American Nonrequired Reading, Harper'sMcSweeney's, Tin HousePloughsharesIowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review, among others, and has aired on "This American Life." She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 Rebecca Makkai


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-grandmother killed herself in this house. I understand she was quite self-absorbed.” After that, Zee would listen all night long, like the heroine of one of the gothic novels she loved, to the house creaking on its foundation, to the knocking she’d once been assured was tree branches hitting the windows.

Doug said, “I can’t imagine you superstitious.”

“People change.”

They were painting pale blue over the chipped yellow. They’d pulled the appliances from the wall, covered the floor in plastic. There was a defunct light switch, and there was a place near the refrigerator where the wall had been patched with a big square board years earlier. Both were thick with previous layers of paint, so Doug just painted right on top.

He said, “You realize we’re making the room smaller. Every layer just shrinks the room.” His hair was splattered with blue.

It was one of the moments when Zee remembered to be happy: looking at him, considering what she had. A job and a house and a broad-shouldered man. A glass of white wine in her left hand.

It was a borrowed house, but that was fine. When Zee and Doug first moved back to town two years ago, they’d found a cramped and mildewed apartment above a gourmet deli. On three separate occasions, Zee had received a mild electric shock when she plugged in her hair dryer. And then her mother offered them the coach house last summer and Zee surprised herself by accepting.

She’d only agreed to returned home because she was well beyond her irrational phase. She could measure her adulthood against the child she’d been when she lived here last. As Zee peeled the tape from the window above the sink and looked out at the lights of the big house, she could picture her mother and Bruce in there drinking rum in front of the news, and Sofia grabbing the recycling on her way out, and that horrible dog sprawled on his back. Fifteen years earlier, she’d have looked at those windows and imagined Violet Devohr jostling the curtains with a century of pent-up energy. When the oaks leaned toward the house and plastered their wet leaves to the windows, Zee used to imagine that it wasn’t the rain or wind but Violet, in there still, sucking everything toward her, caught forever in her final, desperate circuit of the hallways.

They finished painting at two in the morning, and they sat in the middle of the floor and ate pizza. Doug said, “Does it feel more like it’s ours now?” And Zee said, “Yes.”

At a department meeting later that same week, Zee reluctantly agreed to take the helm of a popular fall seminar. English 372 (The Spirit in the House: Ghosts in the British and American Traditions) consisted of ghost stories both oral and literary. It wasn’t Zee’s kind of course—she preferred to examine power structures and class struggles and imperialism, not things that go bump in the night—but she wasn’t in a position to say no. Doug would laugh when she told him.

On the bright side, it was the course she wished she could have taken herself, once upon a time. Because if there was a way to kill a ghost story, this was it. What the stake did to the heart of the vampire, literary analysis could surely accomplish for the legend of Violet Devohr.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“[A] gleeful tale of ghosts, vengeance and family secrets…The darkly funny Makkai seeds the narrative with so many mysteries and surprises...that those 100 years race by.”
People, “The Best New Books”
 
“A big-hearted gothic novel, an intergenerational mystery, a story of heartbreak and a romance, all crammed into one grand Midwestern estate….A juicy and moving story of art and love and the luck it takes for either to last.”
Los Angeles Times
 
“An entertaining, ambitious saga ….Makkai’s lyrical prose quietly lifts off the page while her carefully crafted plot charges forward.”
The Boston Gobe
 
“Ingenious…sharp and ambitious….[brimming] with humor and a fondness for hijinks…..Both clever and heartfelt, this is a book with something for pretty much everyone….You will smile, guaranteed.”
Cleveland Plain-Dealer
 
“A witty mystery set at a countryside estate….Makkai’s humorous, expertly orchestrated storytelling will surprise you.”
Oprah.com, “6 Dazzling New Beach Reads”
 
“Makkai has written a novel that reads almost like early Muriel Spark — clever, competent, and concealing an unsettling and skewed reality….The hand that keeps giving the kaleidoscope another turn, controlling just how the pieces land, isn't fate, of course. It's the artist. Makkai is one.”
Chicago Tribune
 
“As restless, and as sly, as the mythical Proteus, [Makkai] nimbly remakes her novel at every turn….It takes a special trick to remake the world without a reader noticing; it takes a tremendous talent to do it again and again.”
NPR.org
 
“Compelling….clever….full of unexpected storytelling and wry humor….The delight is in the details, so don't plan to consume this one between naps. Instead, tuck your reading glasses into your carry-on and devour it on the plane. Revelations, increasingly delicious and devastating, come faster and more furiously as the text progresses, and you'll want sharp focus so you don't miss them.”
Denver Post
 
“A sly, funny, literary mystery, a meet-cute romantic comedy, and a metafictional meditation on fate rolled up into one.” 
The Austin Chronicle
 
“Clever and acrobatic….Makkai is a juggler, handling the many plots, characters and ideas with ease and humor and, at times, pathos.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“A page-turner of a novel with whip-smart dialogue.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Makkai’s screwball intrigue [is] fresh and fun.”
Good Housekeeping, Summer 2014 Reading List
 
“A clever and utterly delightful work of fiction…infused with a respect for literature and literary culture, as well as a wry sense of humor…[and] starring a house with as much personality as Manderley or Hill House.”
BookPage
 
“An imaginative and lively epic.”
Flavorwire
 
“Makkai humorously turns the conventional family saga on its head, in a clever exploration of metamorphosis and secrecy.”
Huffington Post, The Book We’re Talking About
 
“Hilarious and heartbreaking….utterly absorbing….Makkai creates eccentric characters the reader can’t give up on [and her] witty and engrossing writing style belies the nearly Dickensian way she layers characters over time, revealing hidden identities and unknown connections…. Deceptively light and fast-paced, the story will stay with the reader long after the satisfying conclusion.”
San Antonio Current
 
“The pleasures of Makkai’s novel are contagious….[The Hundred-Year House] manages the rare feat of crafting a smart comedy with a satisfyingly fierce pace — this book is a true page-turner — while indulging in an unusual structure….Here, we find a writer with an innately intelligent and assured comedic voice, someone who obviously has a deep literary pedigree but appears more interested in having fun on the page and puzzling out the complexities of a tightly woven plot.”
Toronto Star
 
“Deliciously entertaining….Rare indeed is the novel that combines beautiful prose with ideas as robust as those on display in The Hundred-Year House—not to mention a story like a set of Penrose stairs, connected in the most playful, the most surprising of ways….A wonderful novel, as beautifully written as it is painstakingly plotted, with the structure to please any literary critic, and a story absorbing enough to satisfy the most ravenous reader.”
Winnipeg Free-Press
 
“A puzzle-box of a story that moves backward in time….Makkai invites the reader, more than any character, to play detective. Flipping back to earlier sections to spot…clues hidden in plain sight is one of the book’s distinct pleasures. Makkai [is] a mainstay of contemporary literary fiction.”
The Kansas City Star
 
“A funny, engaging, time-traveling love story.”
Tampa Bay Times
 
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.”
BookBrowse
 
“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.”
Library Journal (starred)
 
“Charmingly clever and mischievously funny…A dazzling plot spiked with secrets…[Makkai] stealthily investigates the complexities of ambition, sexism, violence, creativity, and love in this diverting yet richly dimensional novel.”
Booklist (starred)
 
“A lively and clever story…exceptionally well-constructed, with engaging characters busy reinventing themselves throughout, and delightful twists that surprise and satisfy.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)
 
“Suspenseful [and] amusing….Makkai's novel will keep readers on edge until the last piece of the puzzle drops into place and the whole brilliant picture can be seen at once, sharp and clear.”
Shelf Awareness (starred)
 
“Rebecca Makkai is the most refreshing kind of writer there is: both genius and generous. Every masterfully crafted connection, every lovingly nestled detail, is a gift to the attentive reader. Playful, poignant, and richly rewarding, The Hundred-Year House is the most absorbing book I've read in ages. Before you've finished, you'll want to read it again.”
—Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
 
“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.”
—Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman’s Tale

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. Told backwards from the viewpoints of an array of eccentric and intertwined characters, the story's secrets are revealed with stunning acuity. An ambitious work, well-realized.”
—B. A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger

“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. As decades unfold in reverse, we find that nothing about Laurelfield’s various inhabitants is at it first appears, and neither talent nor history sits on solid ground.”
—Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane

Customer Reviews

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The Hundred-Year House 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
Rebecca Makkai's The Hundred-Year House is my favorite book of 2014 thus far. It's hard to characterize; Makkai's beautiful prose and sensitive exploration of human relationships place it squarely in the literary fiction camp, but what drives it, and keeps the reader madly turning the pages, is a series of mysteries within mysteries centering upon, among other things, the fates of an obscure poet and a painting of oak leaves. The story regresses through time in four sections (1999, 1955, 1929, and 1900), with each new section revealing secrets which dramatically alter the reader's understanding of the previous (but later) sections. Most of Makkai's characters are eccentric academics or artists, as befit a house which has spent much of its century-long existence as an artist colony, and some of her descriptions are equally colorful: "The Devohrs weren't people so much as sea turtles that laid their eggs and then crawled back to the ocean, not particularly invested in meeting their progeny ever again." "[H]e'd spent the war years scooping up young widows like candy from a piñata." "In the morning he was like a small, clean snowball - one that would roll downhill all day, picking up rocks and darkness and growing enormous and sharp." That last simile - what a perfect description of an alcoholic, abusive husband! I am not a re-reader (there are just too many new books out there calling my name), but I was mighty tempted to go right back to the beginning and start again, to see how my reading experience would change now that I know at least some of the house's secrets. I am confident that The Hundred-Year House will reward repeat readers with an even deeper satisfaction; if you haven't bought a copy yet, what are you waiting for? I received a free copy of The Hundred-Year House through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Margitte More than 1 year ago
Captivating unbelievably suspenseful read! The book started out as a short story about male anorexia. The author have no idea what the hell happened next, and neither do I, sorry to say ! The first woman, Violet Saville Devohr, to step over the threshold of Laurelfield, understood the meaning of doors when she said to her husband: “You may shut me in, but I can shut you out. There are two sides to every door, Augustus.” And then she proceeded to commit suicide by her own rules. She defined the rest of the mansion's story as a painting hanging over the mantelpiece, being a constant reminder of what the gracious old house had to witness and endure. Narrative: Brilliant! Language: Brilliant! Characterization: Brilliant! Sadly, way too many characters and none of them lovable. Theme: Mmmmm......messy but a great idea; Plot: Confusing - too many sub plots; How the plot, characters and setting relate to reality: Excellent. Entertaining Outstanding! Detail: Outstanding! HOWEVER: I did feel the last two periods, 1929, 1900 - messy and chaotic, were more a form of information-dumping, to enhance the plot. It was as though the story lacked validation and needed this information to make sense, but it did not initially fitted into the main story in the first period, 1999. It was therefore added as an urgent, yet messy, after-thought. Did not work for me. The inverted chronology might define this book, as is evident from all the attention it receives, but I did not like it. Neither did I appreciate the end landing in the middle of the book. Still, what a captivating unbelievably suspenseful read! The story caught me from the get-go and had me reading non-stop until the end. I did want to end it all into the second half, though but kept going. Optimism and hope it is called. I won't pursue another book written in this style, though. It was just too confusing. For a club read: excellent! I do consider reading the book again to understand its deeper nuances and hidden plots better. I want to. Was it worth my time? Yes. The prose was outstanding. I will read the author again. She's good with words.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am 2/3 of the way through this book and will not waste any more time on it. It has a ridiculous plot, overly melodramatic, with not a single likeable character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed how this story was told. (but won't give anything away). Didn't want to put the book down until I figured out more about the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Made it half way through. This was like several books written by several authors. Disjointed; neither plot nor character driven. I usually muddle through no matter how poorly writen a book is. This was exceptionally bad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every time i think i know whats going on in this book a new time frame starts and i am completely baffeled! Almost done, and once again in a new time frame, and completely confussed! I am pretty sure its a good book ....but exhausted trying to understand whats going on....and who the players are! I just hope i "get it" by the last page! Could be a 5 star book ........
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dgupsf
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. Ghosts and family secrets sounded like a very promising, enjoyable read. However, I was very disappointed. For me, personally, characters are paramount; I need the characters to be likable, I want to enjoy and care about whats going on with them. The characters in this book are atrociously written. I couldn't relate or like any character within this story. I would describe this book as being very dry, sometimes cringe worthy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Written in reverse chronological order. More nuances were gained when going back and re-reading sections - if you have the time or inclination to do so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okknja