I was introduced to Nicole Krauss (Not to be confused with Nicola Krauss) via one of my creative writing professors, Jon Papernick—also a writer, whose books I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks—because I had professed my undying love of Jonathan Safran Foer. The two are incidentally married, and incidentally extraordinarily talented writers.
I first read The History of Love, which I totally recommend, and just recently finished her latest novel, Great House. Great House gets its title from Jewish folklore, and if you love stories about jews, or that have jews in them, like I do, you should definitely pick up this book. However, I don’t know if this book is for everyone. Both Foer and his lovely wife Nicole Krauss often use a fractured style of story telling, where different character’s stories run parallel to each other, and are often only connected in subtle ways (at least at first, the intertwinedness usually becomes more relevant toward the end). For example, at the start of Great House, the only connection is a huge writing desk that is described to be almost like a supernatural force.
It’s large, old, shrouded in the mystery of its origins, with rows and rows of tiny drawers and a fairly ominous presence. I tend to like this style, but for some who don’t necessarily care for hearing four or five different stories in one novel, it may seem too fragmented. The book is broken down into sections, all told from first person and like somewhat of a confessional of sorts. Some of the characters’ voices intrigued me more than others, for instance that of an older, ailing Israeli father addressing a son to whom he’s nearly always been estranged.
The one thing I wasn’t crazy about with this book is that it seemed unfairly weighted toward some of the characters. Some characters got two or three “chapters” and others got only one. The last chapter even introduced a whole new voice; and I wasn’t sure if I liked that or not. This is almost more of a testament to Krauss’ skill than it is a criticism—I felt so attached to each character that I just wanted more chapters from his or her point of view.
Krauss offers a really textured portrait of each person, both by having the characters examine themselves and by portraying each through the eyes of others. Her style is very economical—there isn’t any flab to her writing. This book is also achingly sad. Not in the tear-jerking style of Jodi Piccoult, but far more subtle. There are, yes, overtly sad portions of the novel, but there are other parts that may not be something to which you as a reader can relate, but the emotions expressed by each character are so real and raw that you can’t help but feel them too.
The ending also really resonated with me. I won’t give it away here because that would be really lame of me, but the way in which the ending was handled/written in such a way that it echoed the sentiments expressed therein perfectly—that will make sense when you actually read it. Overall, if you’re interested in books that are written in really interesting ways and still tell a really good story, I would recommend Great House. However, I understand how it may not be for everyone. Feel free to leave any contesting thoughts, reviews, or feelings in the comments.