The Hundred-Year House is a great sweeping saga about the Devohr family, and the seat of all their dysfunction, Laurelfield. Once a burgeoning artists’ colony in the 1920’s, frequented by luminaries of the time, the backdrop for inspiration, romance, violence and mystery; now sits decaying and forgotten.
Rebecca Makkai hints at the family’s haunting past with the first sentences:
“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.”
Mayhem and mystery unravel over three generations of Devohr women as the house and its provenance looms over their lives and ultimately their happiness. Zee is Violet’s great-granddaughter, a Marxist scholar who is embarrassed by her family, and Grace, Zee’s mother and Violet’s daughter, and the current owner of Laurelfield. Both women grapple with trying to define their place, and their identity apart from the grim history of the family estate.
Makkai chronicles the life cycle of the house into four pivotal years: 1999, 1955, 1929 and 1900. With each year we are given a peek into the lives of one of the Devohr women. In 1999, Zee and her husband Doug move into the carriage house on the property while he works on book about Edwin Parfitt, a poet who may or may not have stayed at Laurelfield while it was an artists colony. In 1955, Grace is a newly married woman to a man her family despises, but she loves him despite this. Grace has taken refuge from her family’s disapproval and her husband’s temper in the attic of Laurelfield, the place where her grandmother took her life. While living there, the house and the grounds become a sanctuary for her but in reality it is a crumbling vestige of its former self. In 1929, shortly after the stock market crashes, Laurelfield is struggling to remain relevant as an arts colony. The staff and resident artists, including Edwin Parfitt, are desperate to convince Gamby Devohr (Violet’s son) that the estate is still profitable. And finally in 1900, when Augustus Devohr buys the land on which he will build his family estate or as his wife saw “it as a prison in the wilderness”, the story’s turbulent beginning is revealed.
In a mere 338 pages, The Hundred Year House, is at its’ core a story about a family whose history is colorful, ugly and full of secrets. It is an engaging novel that warrants a second read.
Formats Available: Book (Regular Type, Large Type)
Reviewed by Carolyn, Crescent Hill Branch