Plot or Premise
What I Liked
The overall story is awesome, despite some accessibility challenges with the structure (see below). You get to see pieces of the long story in the 1850s with one character as a young girl and another as a young boy; period two is an outing a number of years later when a bunch of artists descend on the house for a seminal event in their history; later occupation of the house by a woman who runs a girls school there; transformation of the house into a museum much later, to honour one of the artists from the fateful summer; occupation of the house by a young family during WWII; a visit to the house by a man and a woman years later; and finally a visit by an archivist in the present day, trying to find out some of the history from those various periods. She has some of the clues about the various timeframes and is trying to piece together more information about the fateful summer.
What I Didn’t Like
I didn’t like the constant jumping around in time and point of view, which is the structural problem I mentioned above. There are at least seven separate timeframes for the house, and even a couple more in there that are alluded to through reminiscing, but some of the timeframes are not indicated very precisely. You kind of have to figure a couple out as you go. In addition, while the author is a master of lyrical prose, you know some of the story is going to be a bit weird when early on you see an event from the point of view of a satchel that is being opened. Yes, the actual satchel, as if it is alive. It is not the only fantastical element in the book, but the rest would be too much of a spoiler to reveal. A bigger problem I had was that in one timejump, the new PoV is in the head of a woman who has a name VERY similar to that of another character; so much so that I was ten pages into the section before I realized that it wasn’t the woman I thought it was, and the timeframe was VERY different as a result. I often read books that have timeline issues that are way more complex than here, but even I had trouble following some of the hops. I also found part of the ending left things a bit hard to understand with one person acting very out of character and the final piece being a bit open-ended.
The Bottom Line
Great prose, wonderful saga, but difficult structure.