The best books on the psychological interplay between people and houses

Allison Levy Author Of House of Secrets: The Many Lives of a Florentine Palazzo
By Allison Levy

The Books I Picked & Why


By Ian McEwan

Book cover of Atonement

Why this book?

A magnificent and meticulous literary account of the architecture—or, rather, labyrinth—of imagination and memory, this tortured tale of mis-seeing and misunderstanding, of repercussions and regrets, is centered on the events of summer 1935, when a precocious 13-year-old, Briony Tallis, witnesses—and misconstrues—encounters between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. Most notably, the locations where these encounters take place—a fountain on the estate, the library, the grand manor itself—suggest the complicated ways in which we perceive our own and others’ identities within and against houses.

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House of Sand and Fog

By Andre Dubus III

Book cover of House of Sand and Fog

Why this book?

This #1 New York Times bestseller grapples with what houses say about who we are—or want to become. Slip into a tragic entanglement between Massoud Behrani, a recent immigrant from Iran intent on restoring his family’s honor by purchasing a California bungalow up for auction, and Kathy Nicolo, the house’s owner, and a recovering drug addict determined to hold on to her family property. This penetrating novel will satisfy readers’ unquenchable thirst for stories that explore the psychological ramifications of emotional and social overinvestment in the promise of a house.

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The Remains of the Day

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover of The Remains of the Day

Why this book?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize, this poignant historical novel probes social, political, and architectural structuresas rigid as they are vulnerablein early-to-mid 20th-century Britain. The protagonist, Stevens, is a devoted butler at Darlington Hall, a stately home newly acquired by a wealthy American named Mr. Farraday. In 1956, Stevens pays a visit to the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton, during which he reminisces about events at Darlington Hall in the 1920s and 1930s. This engrossing story—on purpose and on place—elegantly captures the decline of the British aristocracy, the role of memory, and the tensions of disillusionment.

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The Leopard

By Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

Book cover of The Leopard

Why this book?

Set in 19th-century Sicily, this luscious novel reveals the fragility of foundations—of self, of class, of kingdom. The story focuses on the decadent and decaying Italian aristocracy amidst the political upheavals of the 1860s. The main protagonists are the Salina family, above all the patriarch Don Fabrizio, who must accept change if things are to remain the same. A central theme is demise and the fading of beauty, sublimely rendered in rich language that details the scents, colors, and textures of a crumbling family seat.

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Brideshead Revisited

By Evelyn Waugh

Book cover of Brideshead Revisited

Why this book?

A monumental portrait of time and place, this seductive novel transports readers deep inside the private world of the English nobility in the waning days of a gilded age of power and privilege. From the 1920s to the early 1940s, we follow in the footsteps of protagonist Charles Ryder as he becomes infatuated with the wealthy Marchmain family, forging complicated friendships with siblings Sebastian and Julia Flyte. Against the backdrop of Brideshead Castle, a singular story of love and loss—and of salvaging who and/or what remains among the ruins—plays out most provocatively.

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