The house has been vacant for over a year, nestled in the Spanish countryside within view of the ocean. Three adult siblings, José, Carla, and Vicente, have decided they’re going to fix up the house and sell it. The house is a family project through and through—their grandfather bought the land, but that’s all he could afford to do. Their father commissioned the outside structure of the house to be built and, since then, every weekend and vacation has been spent pouring time and love into the house. The children have been helping since they were barely old enough to help, and many of their childhood memories, for better and for worse, are deeply connected to the house. As they grew up, they visited less frequently. Now as adults, a year after their father’s death, they must reunite and step back into their father’s world and process their relationship with the house, their emotionally distant father, and each other.

The book has a color palette of earthy tones and muted shades of green, brown, peach, and turquoise that tie well into the themes of the book. The dusty shades seem to directly tie into the house as a site of abandonment and neglect. Green features fairly heavily in the book; José’s first task when he arrives is focused on trying to revitalize the garden and literally bring life back to the house.The need for healing and growth is strongly evident.

There’s no consistent visual pattern for when a shift is made from present to memory. Sometimes memories are shaded in stark contrasting colors—dusty rose, warm sand—and once bleeding into an ombre when the past and present blur together. Sometimes the color change is a subtle shift, a dull yellow growing a shade brighter and sunnier. Sometimes memories are the same color as the present, and you have to reconsider the dialogue to remember what is taking place when. Sometimes memories take place within the same panel, with the same characters from two timelines experiencing the past and present simultaneously.

Ultimately, Roca shows that memory is a complicated thing.

Distance also helps us understand things differently. As the children recount bitter anecdotes about their father to their spouses and children, their family members reinterpret the memories, unclouded by resentment. Vicente’s son offers clarity to how their father handled the death of their mother; it wasn’t that he didn’t care, it’s that he was lonely, and he handled this loneliness by working on the house rather than opening up to his children.

There’s a shift in the writing in about the last quarter of the story. The storyline of the siblings seems to be wrapping up in a fairly tidy matter, but these scenes are interspersed with the last days of their father, and we learn more about his sudden decline in health. The two storylines are paced differently, showing the children speeding up and moving on after his death, while their father slowly breaks down, his whole world coming slowly to a halt. Though the siblings seemed to have resolved their feelings of guilt and bitterness around their relationship with their father, the story ends on a heavy note, resting solemnly with the reader. Roca’s divergence into parallel storylines reminds us that there is often more to people than what appears on the surface, and how heartbreaking it is to lose that perspective without ever truly understanding it.

The House would be an excellent addition for any library looking to expand their selection of comics for adults, particularly if they are looking to expand their selection of graphic novels in translation.

The House
By Paco Roca
ISBN: 9781683962632
Fantagraphics, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

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Character Traits: Spanish
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator

  • Maria Aghazarian

    Past Reviewer

    Maria Aghazarian is a librarian at Swarthmore College and the Lower Merion library system, in the stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania otherwise known as the “greater Philadelphia area.” Her love of graphic novels started with manga in middle school, but exploded after graduating college when she learned that superheroes aren’t the be-all and end-all of comics. She aims to support small and independent presses, and manufacturers of sturdy bookcases.

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