I won't even attempt to give an in-depth review of Great House by Nicole Krauss because Bookworm Violet at Still Life With Books has already written an excellent one. Her review convinced me to give this book another try. About a month ago, I started reading Great House and like many readers, I found the first 50 or so pages to be wonderful. However, after that it veered into a completely unexpected direction with different characters. Frustrated, I put it aside. This feeling wasn't a complete surprise to me as the exact same thing had happened when I read The History of Love, Krauss' acclaimed second novel. I never got through the second part of that book.
I decided to give Great House another chance after Violet's glowing review and this time I loved it although I can't really explain why. It's not a perfect book but I thought Krauss' prose was elegant and beautiful. It's a book I'll have to reread in the near future. In fact, this might make an excellent book club choice because it will be interesting to hear what others thought. Great House is like a rubik's cube or as Violet says, a set of Baboushka dolls, because the book slowly reveals new stories and new characters at every turn. How are these people related to each other? What do they all have in common? Even now after finishing the book, I'm not exactly sure. We are led to think that it's an antique desk containing several drawers and one locked one. This desk passed through the lives of the characters in the book. But Great House is so much more than the desk that links these characters. It's about life, love, death, loneliness, regret and marriage. I'm still trying to piece all the pieces of the puzzle together in my head and it's not that easy especially as I read a Kindle edition. Next time, I'll have to take notes.
The book starts out in New York in the 70s where twenty-something Nadia becomes caretaker to a desk that belongs to Daniel Varksy who says it once belonged to Federico Garcia Lorca. We later learn that the desk was given to Daniel by a woman in England who keeps it hidden away in an attic together with her terrible memories of world war two and after. Then there's Weisz and his two children. Weisz searches for furniture looted from Jewish families by the Nazis. The desk once stood in his father's study and he spend his entire life hunting it down. There's Isabel who loves Weisz's son but can never get close enough to him. Then there's the aging father with the estranged son. These four different stories make up Great House. Stories that move back and forth through time and spanning different places - Jerusalem, New York, London, Oxford, Santiago. Great House is an exceptionally unique and very, very clever book. This is one book where somehow knowing the ending will bring a deeper understanding to the whole. And that's why I'll just have to read this again.
Have any of you read Great House or reread it? What do you think of it? How does it compare to her other novels? Great House has convinced me to retry The History of Love and to hunt down her other book, Man Walks Into A Room.
Here are some lovely quotes from the book:
"I'd had boyfriends before, and I was familiar with the little mating rituals of getting to know each other, of dragging out the stories from childhood, summer camp, and high school, the famous humiliations, and the adorable things you said as a child, the familial dramas - of drawing a portrait of yourself, all the while making yourself out to be a little brighter, a little more deep than deep down you knew you actually were. And though I hadn't had more than three or four relationships, I already knew that each time the thrill of telling another the story of yourself wore off a litte more, each time you threw yourself into it a little less, and grew more distrustful of an intimacy that always in the end, failed to pass into true understanding."
"We search for patterns, you see, only to find where the patterns break. And it's there, in that fissure, that we pitch our tents and wait."
"He awakened a hunger in me - not just for him, but also for the magnitude of life, for the extremes of all it has been given to us to feel."
“Nineteen drawers of varying size, some below the desktop and some above, whose mundane occupations (stamps here, paper clips there) hid a far more complex design, the blueprint of the mind formed over tens of thousands of days of thinking while staring at them, as if they held the conclusion to a stubborn sentence, the culminating phrase, the radical break from everything I had ever written that would at last lead to the book I had always wanted, and always failed, to write. Those drawers represented a singular logic deeply embedded, a pattern of consciousness that could be articulated in no other way but their precise number and arrangement. Or am I making too much of it?”