Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review- Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff


Andy Gage is only a few years old. The body he's in, though, is almost thirty. Andy is just one of many personalities that inhabit his body. he's the newest, the one intended to run the body, while his "father" Aaron, runs things inside, keeping the personalities under control. Things are actually going well, until Andy gets a new coworker. Penny is clearly a multiple, just like Andy is, but Penny has no idea. At the behest of their boss, Andy reluctantly starts trying to bring Penny into awareness of her other sides. Helping Penny-- or Mouse, as she's usually called-- find herself leads Andy on a path that could tear down the order inside his own head.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

“I suppose I should tell you about the house…The house, along with the lake, the forest, and Coventry, are all in Andy Gage’s head, or what would have been Andy Gage’s head if he had lived. Andy Gage was born in 1965 and murdered not long after by his stepfather…It was no ordinary murder: though the torture and abuse that killed him were real, Andy Gage’s death wasn’t. Only his soul actually died, and when it died, it broke in pieces. Then the pieces became souls in their own right, coinheritors of Andy Gage’s life…”

Andrew Gage was “born” just two years ago, called into being to serve as the public face of a multiple personality. While Andrew deals with the outside world, over a hundred other souls share an imaginary house inside his head, struggling to maintain an orderly coexistence: Aaron, the father-figure, who makes the rules; Adam, the mischievous teenager, who breaks them; Jake, the frightened little boy; Aunt Sam, the artist; Seferis, the defender; and Gideon, the dark soul, who wants to get rid of Andrew and the others and run things on his own.

Andrew’s new coworker, Penny Driver, is also a multiple personality—a fact that Penny is only partially aware of. When several of Penny’s souls ask Andrew for help, he reluctantly agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the stability of his house. Now Andrew and Penny must work together to uncover a terrible secret that Andrew has been keeping from himself…


Who knows what the heck is going on in the minds of those around you? We could all have more than one soul in our heads, for all we know, and some of us just deal with it better than others. Who didn't have imaginary friends as a kid, or try to pretend they were someone else? How often have you seen someone behave completely out of character (for them) and wonder if you really knew them at all? Don't think I'm making light of dissociative personality disorder. I'm not. It's just the closest I can personally come to identifying with it. I don't know if this is how it really is for people with such a disorder, but it's how I imagine it is. This book does, at least as far as I can tell, a good job of portraying what having multiple personalities could be like.


The changes in POV between Andrew and Penny were skillfilly done. There could so easily have been confusion, with all the different souls in their bodies, but I didn't have any trouble keeping track of things as the book went along. If Andy is in the "POV position", it's 1st person. If we're behind Penny/Mouse, it's 3rd. We get to see their different personalities from their eyes, but the changes in person-narrative make it easy to remember whose body you're in.

The writing itself is easy to follow, very thought-like. It was honestly like being in my own head... at least, in how thoughts progressed along with the events.

My Thoughts

Set This House in Order was recommended to me by Cat Rambo. What a recommendation! This is a masterful piece of work and bears rereading. I plan to let it settle in my head for a few months before I pick it up to read it again. Ruff demonstrates an amazing talent for setting up great moments of climax as early as the first few paragraphs of the book. It's stunning, really, how perfectly the book reflects itself.

I spent a lot of time reading this forming theories of what was going on, what connections between characters (or souls) were, and how things would wrap up. I was almost unerringly wrong. Every time.

I LOVED it. This is a book of reveals, not only for the reader, but for the characters. There is one reveal about halfway through the book that really got me, but looking back, the clues were there. It is so subtly done, so skillfull... Ruff really wields his pen (or typewirter, or computer, or whatever) like a scalpel, with such precision that it is a work of art.

Would I Recommend This Book? Multiple yesses. (Is that how you spell yesses? Well, it is now.) This book is intriguing, deep, annoying at times (both the plot and the characters), confusing (both the plot and characters) but in the best ways. I give Set This House in Order a mist-covered 4 out of 5 stars.

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