Monoliths and mansions, Andrew McGahan’s posthumously published novel, THE RICH MAN’S HOUSE, features both, and in its size and complexity, mirrors both.
A mountain of a book, THE RICH MAN’S HOUSE is a mansion of rooms – geographical, geological, psychological, architectural, historical and supernatural – with mantles of mystery and thresholds of suspense.
The novel begins with a couple of prologues of faux fact, giving an historical preface to the multi storied edifice of the narrative. Then the first line of the narrative proper -, “Death is the great invigorator” hits us “like the slap across the face of the sleeper.”
The death that invigorates this opening chapter and that of the ensuing six hundred pages is that of architect, Richard Gausse, found deceased at age 78 in the newly completed home of billionaire Walter Richman.
Gausse designed Richman’s remarkable residence, The Observatory, on Theodolite Isle, in the cold Antarctic waters south of Tasmania. Gausse is famous for his so called “buried” style of design and McGahan has fun exhuming, excavating and uncovering much of what lies beneath his death in this strange monolithic and mythic geographical and geological anomaly.
A daughter from Richard’s first marriage, Rita Gausse, is surprised, upon herfather’s death, to be invited to the Observatory to meet the famous Richman in person. Turns out that her practice as a paranormal medium is the reason, as Richman is convinced a presence from the peak is pitted against him.
Secluded location, ulterior motives at high altitude, THE RICH MAN’S HOUSE at times reads like Agatha Christie on crystal meth with a touch of Lovecraft. It’s not an easy journey to the summit, an avalanche of verbiage detours the ascent, and when the top is reached, you don’t really get to the bottom of the story.
As in keeping with the two prologues, THE RICH MAN’S HOUSE is braced and book-ended by two epilogues, projected histories and anniversaries of the events depicted in the main body of the narrative and supply conjecture and rumour rather than conclusion.
In his author’s note, McGahan insists that THE RICH MAN’S HOUSE is a finished novel but can’t deny that his abrupt decline in health hastened the rewriting and editing process extremely and that it’s not quite the book it would have been had cancer not intervened.
THE RICHMAN’S HOUSE by Andrew McGahan is published by Allen & Unwin