Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fiction Review: Great House

 What I liked most about Nicole Krauss’ novel, The History of Love, was the way that two disparate stories slowly came together to form a cohesive, pleasing whole.  She uses a similar approach in her latest novel, Great House, with tales of four different characters whose lives are joined together by an antique desk.

The novel opens with a somewhat neurotic author who has been writing at the desk for the past 25 years, ever since a friend of a friend asked her if she’d keep his furniture while he went home to Chile.  Many years later, a young woman appears, claiming to be the daughter of the desk’s owner, and takes the desk back home to Jerusalem, leaving the author feeling lost and depressed.  Meanwhile, in London, an elderly man cares for his beloved wife who has Alzheimer’s disease, and discovers a disturbing secret that she kept from him for all those years.

In another part of the world, an antiques dealer in Jerusalem slowly and painstakingly tries to recreate his father’s study from his childhood home in Budapest, before the Nazis plundered the house.  His two children are brought up in a very isolated existence after their mother dies.  Also in Jerusalem, an old man tries to reconnect with his estranged son, who returns from London for his mother’s funeral.

At first, these four stories seem to be unrelated to each other, but gradually, slowly, the reader begins to see threads of connection.  It took me a long time to read this book; it is not a light, easy read.  Krauss’ prose is dense, though often beautiful, with some paragraphs lasting a page and a half or more.  It is an in-depth character study, so if you prefer fast-paced plot-driven stories, this one probably isn’t for you. 

As with her earlier novel, many characters are Jewish and parts of their stories relate to the events surrounding the Holocaust.  I found the overall tone of the novel to be relatively bleak; none of the characters is really happy, and the ending doesn’t bring much resolution, though there are minor hints of hope. I preferred the love story at the heart of The History of Love.  Overall, I enjoyed this National Book Award finalist, and I was glad to have read it, though I generally prefer more upbeat stories.

289 pages, Norton



  1. I still haven't really gotten to this; I tried to read it and failed! I still have it though so there's hope@

  2. That's understandable, Marie, given how dense the writing is. I showed my husband how many paragraphs went on for over a page and he said, "No way I would even try a book like that!" Definitely not for everyone.

  3. I have the audio version that I've been meaning to get to. Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. Ugh. Now I am not sure if I want to read this book or not. I have a hard time making myself read books that are a bummer. But I think Krause was such a good writer in THe History of Love perhaps I should give it a try.

  5. Anne -

    Yes, it's a tough call - a good book but slower-paced than what I normally read. If you read the professional reviews by all the big-name reviewers (NYT, etc.), they just rave about what an amazing book this is!


    P.S. Anne, I have been trying to leave a comment on your Monday post since yesterday, but every time I try, the comment box disappears when I try to type in it! It looks like Blogger made some changes to its comment management. I will keep trying but not sure what is wrong!