Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Great House by Nicole Krauss

Great House: A NovelTitle: Great House
Author: Nicole Krauss
Pages: 289
Published: 2010 W.W. Norton & Co.
Read For: Indie Lit Awards
My Rating: 3.5 stars

I see Great House most often described as a story surrounding a gargantuan desk. Yet while the desk is a unifying object, the one that ends up tying the book together in fact, I can't help but think that in the end, the desk itself was unimportant.  But if it isn't really about the desk, what is it about?  Maybe this, from page 278-279:
What is a Jew without Jerusalem? How can you be a Jew without a nation? How can you make a sacrifice to God if you don't know where to find him? [...] Turn Jerusalem into an idea.  Turn the Temple into a book, a book as vast and holy and intricate as the city itself. Bend a people around the shape of what they lost, and let everything mirror its absent form.
[...] Two thousand years have passed, my father used to tell me, and now every Jewish soul is built around the house that burned in that fire, so vast that we can, each one of us, only recall the tiniest fragment: a pattern on the wall, a knot in the wood of a door, a memory of how light fell across the floor.  But if every Jewish memory were put together, every last holy fragment joined up again as one, the House would be built again, said Weisz, or rather a memory of the House so perfect that it would be, in essence, the original itself.  Perhaps that is what they mean when they speak of the Messiah: a perfect assemblage of the infinite parts of the Jewish memory.  In the next world, we will all dwell together in the memory of our memories.
Since the story is not told in a traditional narrative structure, it seems to meander quite a bit.  It is told in 8 sections, telling and intertwining 4 separate stories.  Structurally, it is somewhere between a novel told in stories (but not really, since I don't think any of the 8 sections could actually stand on their own as an individual short story) and a multi-narrator novel (but again, not really, since each narrator is telling their own story, not simply different perspectives of the same story).

Each section was told in 1st person, which when combined with the switching perspectives and lack of traditional dialogue, made it difficult to get to know the characters.  In fact, just about the time I'd start to warm up to one character, the section ended and I had to start over with someone else.  In the end, I didn't really like any of the characters.  I found them to be stubborn and rather hard to relate to.  Just like the desk, however, I don't think that the characters themselves were as important as the themes running through the book.  What it comes down to is that each character isn't so important, they are all just pieces of the puzzle.

While I don't feel that this book was completely successful in what it aimed to do, it did arouse my curiosity in Nicole Krauss as an author.  She does have a way with words, and she definitely makes you think--two good qualities to have as a novelist.  And surprisingly, all the loose ends do come together at the end.  It is worth checking out if you are in the mood for a story with a unique structure and some good writing.


  1. I've not read any Nicole Krauss. I think I'm going to try "The History of Love" first.

  2. I keep hearing (reading ;) wonderful things about this novel. I own The History of Love, but haven't read it yet, nor, of course, this one. But, I want to! Thanks so much for the book you sent me a few weeks ago; I think I'll get to that one first. xoxo

  3. The quote is beautiful. Your description intrigues me. It seems almost like eastern religions with one consciousness.

  4. Sam--I've heard so many good things about "The History of Love". I think I'll be putting it on my list too.

    Bellezza--It seems to me that a lot of the reviews I've read about Great House were from people who read it because they had loved "The History of Love". She really does write well. I hope that you enjoy Star of the Sea!

    Heidi--I found that quote fascinating. I wish that I'd read it before diving into the story, maybe it would have opened up more of the symbolism for me.


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