Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A House and Its Head” as Want to Read:
A House and Its Head
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A House and Its Head

3.44  ·  Rating Details  ·  218 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
A radical thinker, one of the rare modern heretics, said Mary McCarthy of Ivy Compton-Burnett, in whose austere, savage, and bitingly funny novels anything can happen and no one will ever escape. The long, endlessly surprising conversational duels at the center of Compton-Burnett's works are confrontations between the unspoken and the unspeakable, and in them the dynamics ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published August 25th 1983 by Penguin Books (first published 1935)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A House and Its Head, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A House and Its Head

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 811)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Feb 15, 2012 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very strange book. I hardly know what to think. It invites comparison with Meredith with respect to the sheer difficulty of following what's happening. People say things (practically the whole book is dialogue) but half the time, I just don't follow the conversation. This tendency is not helped by (perhaps is wholly owing to) the absence of clues as to when things are said sotto voce, or in a side conversation not involving all present, and so on. (I suppose there must be theatrical adaptation ...more
bobbygw bobbygw
Feb 27, 2015 bobbygw bobbygw rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, feminism
Compton-Burnett (abbreviated as CB henceforth) is one of the truly remarkable modernist writers, with a span of resonant fiction that she wrote from the 1920s through to the 1960s.

Through her principal and powerful focus on the use of dialogue in her fiction to convey in a dramatic way her characters' individual personalities, tensions, complexities, resentments, repressions and sometimes savage irony - she herself is a savage, i.e., wonderful Swiftian ironist/satirist, scalpel-sharp - she is r
At The Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.
A case is ready to be made that Mary Poppins is the fists-clenched existential tale of one man's struggle to the bottom: one George Banks, formerly of the Bank Of London. Uptight father of a motherless family in staunchly proper Edwardian society, Banks is the only one in the story with a character arc. After all, everybody else just does what they do: Poppins flies around on her umbrella bringing delight, the children love games, hate school, hate medicine, love s
Nov 27, 2009 Terence rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 20, 2014 Callie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ever been in a room with two people who know each other really well and almost have a second language between them that you feel you are missing out on? They have lots of inside jokes, etc. That's how I felt reading this book. Maybe C-B is just too sly for me? Or maybe she lacks the simply ability to write clearly? I prefer to think it's the latter of the two for obvious reasons. I don't lack intelligence; she lacks talent.

But, I DID like this book and there were so many twists in the plot that
Nicholas During
Mar 06, 2012 Nicholas During rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 11, 2008 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britlit, nyrb
A 1935 British Victorian family drama/black comedy with some melodramatic elements. You'd think that any mention of melodrama would send me running for the hills, but in this case, no. The comedy here, already dark and serious, uses that melodrama as a way to become even darker and more serious. In the end, the book becomes not just a critique but a condemnation of the entirety of Victorian family life, and in particular the dominant, horrifying man of the house.

I picked this up since it was par
Lots of very mannered, self-consciously clever dialogue - almost like reading a Wildean play script. Superb descriptions of people's tone of voice, mannerisms, emotions, motivation, inner fears, hidden agendas etc. Not something one can skim. Although lots of dialogue, it is not always immediately obvious who is saying what. Most characters are cold and detached, with not much plot happening and nothing resolved at the end.

The repercussions of death and betrayal in a family of almost adult offsp
Feb 28, 2015 Joanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
- jeśli kochacie Gosford Park (a przede wszystkim Starą z Gosford Park)
- jeśli uwielbiacie Bernharda i jego rozwalanie złudzeń
- jeśli kochacie komunikację i lawiny spiętrzonych znaczeń w każdym zdaniu, które zabijają tych mniej uważnych (a w tym XIX wiktoriański wiek wszakże się specjalizował)
- i czasem uważacie, że przymiotniki są przereklamowane (niesamowite wstrzymujące dech w piersiach magiczne porywające wzruszające widoki to nie tutaj)
- a na co dzień brakuje Wam inteligentnej ir
An experiment in conveying a narrative almost entirely through dialog of dry sass. Mostly unsuccessful, as the scandals were obscured to the point of no impact and the meanings were frequently too unclear.
Bill FromPA
Mar 30, 2016 Bill FromPA rated it it was amazing
There is a book burning in the first chapter of A House and Its Head. Only a single volume, “a scientific work, inimical the faith of the day” is incinerated, and the destruction takes place at the family hearth, not in a public square, but the action, placed by the author in 1885, resonates with international events in the year of publication, 1935. Later in the book there is an even more horrifying and brutal event that anticipates actions taken in Nazi Germany by several years. If the first i ...more
Oct 16, 2007 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A novel constructed almost entirely from brittle, spiteful dialog between awful upper-middle class Victorian English family members - sort of funny and sort of too close to the bone for comfort in some ways. If indeed "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way", I suppose we ought to try to take in a cross-section of the many varieties.

Finished this and have to say (as the improbably named Francine Prose notes in her afterword) it is "hilarious" and "harrowing" - lots of rather melodramatic
Apr 06, 2016 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Downton Abbey for the vicious. The story passes so much in dialogue that it can be hard to be sure of where the characters are or even who speaks, but on balance the information is there to reward the patient reader. Once it's easy to keep track of who is who, it's a funny, biting novel.
Rita	 Marie
May 30, 2014 Rita Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-fiction
This book provided a unique reading experience, turned my head right around. It’s about 98% straight dialog, much like reading a play but without any stage directions. Often you don’t know where the scene is or who is present until someone speaks up. Unlike a stage play, however, the dialog is vague and uncertain with a sort of herky-jerky quality. Did he really mean that? Was that sarcasm? Wait, what did she say?

The core characters are the Edgeworth family – father Duncan, wife Ellen, daughter
Deborah J
I struggled more with this than with previous Compton-Burnetts although this is supposed to be one of her best. It needs to be read at long sittings - it's very hard to dip in and out of because you lose track of who's speaking.

I wouldn't advise anyone thinking of starting a family or about to attend a family reunion to read this book! The seemingly inane chit-chat of family life is revealed as vicious, self-serving, self-aggrandising and controlling. Meal times are especially dangerous in C-B's
Justin Evans
Aug 02, 2009 Justin Evans rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I had a lot of trouble working out the tone of this book. At the end of the day I think it's more satirical than I thought when I started reading it. In any case, it's pretty funny. Not sure if I'll be picking up anymore of her books; word on the grapevine is they're mostly the same.
Mar 25, 2015 Lobstergirl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lorraine Wallace
Shelves: own, nyrb, fiction

Three stars because there's so much going on here, on the surface and underneath it, but nonetheless I strongly disliked the book. I've read two of her novels because I already owned them, but I can't imagine reading any more. Torture, pretty much.
Was confused at first but finished it more than a bit in love with ICB's mind.
Jun 20, 2016 Julka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
Powieści Ivy Compton-Burnett skupiają się przede wszystkim na życiu domowym i związanym z nim problemami. Burnett opisuje jak działa hierarchia w rodzinie. Pokazuję walkę o dominację i czym te zmagania mogą skutkować. Nie popada przy tym w sentymentalizm, nie potęguje uczyć nadziei, czy rozpaczy. Stara się pokazać życie takim jakie jest. Powieść „Dom i jego głowa” nie jest pod tym względem wyjątkiem.

Bohaterowie powieści muszą radzić sobie z przemocą psychiczną, zagrożeniem z zewnątrz, czy wrogim
May 29, 2013 Syd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a difficult read. The vast majority of the book is dialogue, and the non-dialogue prose is brief and businesslike, telling only what is necessary to move the dialogue along. Skimming is almost impossible here. I had to reread pages many times to catch the few words that clarify what's going on. However, if a reader pays close enough attention, the dialogue is all that one needs to get a complex look into the inner workings of a strictly led household fighting over matters of inherit ...more
This novel was so English that it was at times incomprehensible. (For example, she will blithely use "it" three or four times in a sentence, each "it" with a different antecedent.) But Anglophile that I am, I soldiered on, and was rewarded by a truly shocking plot. These characters, Edwardian and mostly gentlefolk, have no compunctions about adultery and murder, and everyone agrees to cover it all up because we don't want any trouble, now do we? It's all told in well-bred tea-table dialogue, whi ...more
Oct 03, 2012 Amari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was stunned and delighted for the first 80 pages or so. Compton-Burnett's prose is concise, wickedly pointed, and aggressively sardonic. The book consists almost entirely of active dialogue, allowing the reader to draw conclusions without guidance from an omniscient presence through the characters' interactions. After a while, this characteristic -- however attractive it may have been initially -- became tiresome for me. The unremitting dialogues started to sag and lose their sharpness; both c ...more
Monica Nolan
Sep 02, 2014 Monica Nolan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I discovered this book in a hodge-podgey library room at college (which also had Fred Astaire's autobiography and a bunch of James Bond novels). I loved this. The story and setting are very Victorian, but the tone is totally at odds--modern, mordant, dry. Like Hemingway rewrote Bleak House.
Aug 09, 2014 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very bizarre and VERY VERY funny if you enter the weirdness of this family with its patriarchal "head" of the house. I read other reviewers on Goodreads first and it helped me have the right attitude to enjoy this book. Otherwise I might have hated it.
Aug 09, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
was not an easy read. must pay very close attention and i often did not. regardless, compton-burnett's vision, style and execution are so unique and thorough and profound and disturbing, one can feel grateful for the challenge. a story told almost entirely in dialogue about a family and what happens to the family in normal and not-so-normal family ways. kind of like reading a play, maybe a screenplay to an episode of "curb your enthusiasm" because everything that is spoken is completely either s ...more
This novel is a good demonstration for writers on how to use dialogue to create action, something I'm trying to teach my students. Having said that, my only complaint with the way the novel is written is that I frequently had trouble working out who was speaking as I struggled to match Christian names with Surnames. Further, the language is very formal, which is not normally a problem, however on occasion I was left scratching my head trying to work out what point the character was trying to mak ...more
Dec 15, 2012 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These people put the fun in dysfunctional? These people are all so crazy it makes everyone's lives seem so normal. From nephews sleeping with their young aunts (by marriage) to a daughter hiring people to kill her half brother who is technically her step son. And pretty much no one caring. To the busybody neighbours who just want to get married to the rector who seems to be the only eligible bachelor around. Wittily crafted, this book is pretty genius. It is tough to read at times as it's almost ...more
Mar 22, 2014 Rosemary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written late in Ivy Compton-Burnett's life, this book repeats themes from others of hers that I've read (dominant pater familias, stepmother(s), caustic wit) but this goes further into melodrama with the rather horrible (though bloodless) murder of a character who turns out to be superfluous.

Rather too many characters - there were some I didn't bother to even try to keep track of. And of course, ICB's usual dialogue-driven style and devastating emotional truths. But when you read about her own
Feb 17, 2008 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish this book were not so understated. It's written almost entirely in dialogue, so it can get confusing as to who is talking and what action is taking place during conversations and outside of conversations. The characters are deliciously amoral, but some descriptive text amidst the dialogue would have made this more easily understood. Also, there's a lot of clutter chatter, kind of like a Greek chorus, which serves as commentary on the action, but doesn't help much to explain exactly what i ...more
Apr 21, 2009 Kat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a challenging book as most of it was conducted in dialogue, and a very dated one at that. You had to pay attention and read between the lines of what was said and what was unsaid. In the end, I think that she was really a soap opera writer before there were soap operas.. But also a very skilled listener and observer of the social scene, register, social conventions, etc. The ploy of presenting dramatic events off-screen and thru outsider comments is effective and ends up drawing you int ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 27 28 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
NYRB Classics: A House and Its Head, by Ivy Compton-Burnett 7 21 Mar 23, 2015 09:23PM  
  • Letty Fox: Her Luck
  • Seven Men
  • Wish Her Safe at Home
  • Great Granny Webster
  • The Pumpkin Eater
  • Hadrian the Seventh
  • Mr. Fortune's Maggot; and, The Salutation
  • Dante: Poet of the Secular World
  • The Echoing Grove
  • A View of the Harbour
  • Indian Summer
  • Victorine
  • School for Love
  • Cassandra at the Wedding
  • The Pilgrim Hawk
  • Don't Look Now: Selected Stories of Daphne Du Maurier
  • No Tomorrow
  • The Crowded Street
Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett, DBE was an English novelist, published (in the original hardback editions) as I. Compton-Burnett. She was awarded the 1955 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for her novel Mother and Son.
More about Ivy Compton-Burnett...

Share This Book

“The wrong is never the only thing a wrong-doer has done.” 1 likes
More quotes…