Great House

Great House

by Nicole Krauss

Julie Hersh: I agree with Gail's review of this book in that Great House is a difficult read and not nearly as heart warming as The History of Love. As a writer, I can tell you this book was pure joy for me. Krauss is a poet. She possesses an uncanny ability to portray an authentic voice - no matter how different that voice might be from her actual person.

I remember reading The History of Love, and thinking "this guy is REALLY good. Who's the author." Imagine my astonishment to see that the author was Nicole Krauss, not an aging man who I expected to see on the author's bio page. Nicole Krauss has perfect pitch. Great House narration skips from a young woman, to an aging man, to man devoted to his wife, to a middle aged woman in search of her soul. The book IS confusing, but stunning at the same time.

Here's a sample. This is the aging father thinking about his estranged son:

No, the powerful emotions of youth don't mellow with time. One gets a grip on them, cracks a whip, forces them down. You build your defenses. Insist on order. The strength of feeling doesn't lessen, it is simply contained.

If you are only going to read one Nicole Krauss book, I agree with Gail. Read The History of Love. If you are a writer, or aspiring to write, read both. Nicole's deft use of language is worth a second look. In my opinion, her style is prize worthy, possessing a grace far beyond her years.

Julie K. Hersh


Struck by Living
Rating: ****

Gail Reid: There is no easy way to describe Nicole Krauss' new book "Great House" without being overly simplistic. It is actually four separate stories, each divided into two parts. Most, but not all, of the characters have owned an oversized, one-of-a-kind desk that has played an overwhelming and integral role in their lives.

But, the novel is actually about loss and its impact on the characters. A world-reknown antiques dealer spends his time recreating the parlor of his childhood home in Budapest before his parents were taken away in the Holocaust. The desk is the only piece that cannot be located. An American novelist writes for twenty years at the desk she promises to hold onto temporarily while its young owner, a Chilean poet, dies at the hands of the Pinochet regime. The desk was also once owned by a Holocaust survivor who becomes a minor writer in England. So horrifying are her remembrances, that she completely compartmentalizes her life from before and after her marriage. After her death and a marriage of many decades, her husband ultimately learns the real impact of her losses.

"Great House" is a very complex read on many levels. The chapters move in a non-linear fashion and it is easy to be confused. The writing is hugely descriptive and the sentence structure long and ungainly. With such vivid imagery, it is not a surprise to learn that Nicole Krauss began her writing career as a poet. Krauss' "A History of Love" is one of my all time favorites, so by comparison, I was disappointed with her new book. "Great House' is deep and somber; it lacks the joy and lightness of "A History of Love". Nonetheless, it is an astonishing book on many levels and its impact on me still resonates more than a month after I finished reading.
Rating: ****

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