Friday, October 29, 2010

Great House by Nicole Krauss

"It is impossible to distrust one’s writing without awakening a deeper distrust in oneself."
Although Great House by Nicole Krauss has been marketed as a novel, it is not one in the traditional sense, rather it is four loosely connected stories, connected by a mysterious but bulky desk with nineteen drawers of different sizes and a life as rich and dark as its wood. When the book begins a novelist who has been writing at the desk for twenty five years gives it up to a girl who claims she is the daughter of its original owner- a Chilean poet who disappeared at the hands of the Pinochet's secret police. In the meantime, a man deals with the loss of his wife and tries to connect with his estranged son, while another man learns a secret his wife has kept her entire life. In Jerusalem an antiques dealer finds pieces stolen by the Nazis as he attempts to put back together his father's library for when he was a child. All these characters encounter loneliness and emptiness like a drawers in a desk, secrets they keep inside with a locked key, and as they face their past the themes that bring them together become clear.

I will freely admit that although I have only read half of Krauss previous book, the 2005 much-loved History of Love- I'm really bad at finishing books I actually own rather than have borrowed- I was familiar enough with Krauss' writing from that as well as her debut Man Walks Into A Room that Great House was definitely a book I had high expectations for. Unfortunately although her writing and language choice has definitely become even more remarkable since Man Walks Into A Room was released, the ability to allow the reader into the emotional heart of the characters is what is missing from Great House. Although I will review History of Love in the future, from my experience with it thus far, that is not an issue it shares.

In Great House, I appreciated the fact that although much happens the novel is basically without plot, or much dialogue for that matter, both things I personally avoid in my own writing. Rather Krauss uses the various narrators to reflect on their lives, on the people they have met and the things they done. A lot happens, but most of it is in the past, the history which has already engraved itself into their skins by the time the reader meets them. From that perspective, it is certainly a very dark novel, which I would even go so far as to venture to say has no redemptive moments for most of its characters. Darkness itself is not an issue, but the lack of any form of light means that there is no contrast and as a result by the end even the most heartbreaking moments hardly impacted me. This was further influenced by the fact that I felt hardly any emotional connection to the characters in the novel. Although the characters were extremely eloquent and well written, the details both precise and delicate, the painted a landscape which was beautiful yet flat. In the end, the language in Great House is like stones, each word carefully placed and having a weight, however although it is polished ultimately it is also lifeless.  ***

Number of Pages: 289 pages
Published: October 2010
Source: Public Library 


  1. I'm just starting this one today and looking forward to it. I'm glad to have some negative opinion to balance all the flowing I've heard. It's my second read from the National Book Award finalists, and I really enjoyed the first one (So Much for That by Lionel Shriver).

  2. This is the first not raving review I've read about this one. I am the same way about "The Passage", which I just finished reading .. it was good, but .. not wonderful ... not great ... not up to all of the hype!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

  3. Good to hear someone else couldn't get into the book either.

    Your review is outstanding, though...perfect explanation.


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