The House

Original title: La Maison

Publication Date:

January 2023



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia


Literary Fiction

The House

Original title: La Maison


With elegance and delicacy, Robert Colonna d’Istria recounts the obstacle course of J., a woman in search of a roof and an impossible happiness. – L’Obs

It is not surprising to know that Robert Colonna d’Istria has previously written about these two masters, Georges Bernanos and Henri Bosco. Like them, he makes the most of light and shadow, the bumps in life and the struggles that one may have to fight there. His short and captivating novel has the appearance of a tale. La Maison is one of those texts that you know when you close them that they will stay with you for a long time. – Transfuge

To write this book, with all the poetry and empathy it implies, you had to be an islander yourself and experience this intoxication, this singularity of living on an island. – Livres Hebdo Magazine

It is then that various clues take shape, that the lexicon reveals its intentions and that the story changes by taking on a Christic dimension. The ascent of Golgotha, the crucifixion and finally the resurrection mirror the story of this woman whose dream collapses and who will eventually find her way. – Libération

The female protagonist of this novel will only be known by the initial J., but she is in more sense than one the capital character, to such an extent does she represent us, move us, and involve us in her personal adventure. This city dweller suddenly decides to return to the island where she spent her childhood holidays. Her mother has just died, leaving the holiday home to her brother, but this is not the motivating factor and certainly not something worth fighting over. The urge comes from elsewhere and has nothing to do with family rivalries; rather, she wants to settle on the island such that she feels apart of it, accepted by the natural surroundings as well as by its inhabitants. She wants to be there so that one day, perhaps, she can say she is from there. It’s no longer just until tomorrow or the end of the holidays – this time it is for a lifetime, an existential choice that is also a kind of metamorphosis, as nothing will ever be quite the same again. It’s about de-parting with an island as a destination: her island.

J. is not alone but the man in her life, a loving partner and a keen amateur fisherman, is not involved in this project. He understands her need for free-dom, and a joint adventure would somehow be much too banal.Works begin on the clifftop. From the starting point of an existing wooden hut, a low-slung house will be built that admits a lot of light and does not irreparably alter the landscape. In these parts, one has to be patient as things don’t on the whole work as they do elsewhere: an island is not merely a piece of land surrounded by water but a world apart which does not obey the same psychological, economic or cultural laws as the rest of the world, according to the author, himself an island-lover.

And sure enough, J.’s project is soon hit by a series of unforeseen setbacks that bring profound disappointment in their wake. And then there is the ocean, that essential protagonist in this story… This understatedly lyrical novel explores what motivates people, and women in particular, to seek outan anchor point in their lives. Their dreams of passing something on are so strong when it comes to apiece of land that those dreams sometimes become the centre of their existence, like the obsessions of an artist or the irresistible appeal of foreign lands. These women who reinvent themselves elsewhere construct imaginary worlds and memories that go to the heart of who they are. In exploring these powerful connections, these destinies that are often informed by promises made to ancestors and involve exile, judgements and obscure impulses for revenge, Robert Colonna d’Istria paints an elegant and authentic portrait of a timeless woman