Wednesday, December 8, 2010

books: great house, by nicole krauss.

to say that nicole krauss' new book, great house, is not an easy read would be an understatement. it's not that it's slow or overly complex in its themes; it's just that its characters manage to be incredibly complicated, deeply flawed people that add even more gravity to a book that has very few moments of levity to begin with.

to be frank: if you're sad, this book will not uplift you.

but all that being said, great house is a book that leaves an indelible mark, a book that i didn't want to close too quickly when i got to the last page because i felt like doing so would take away from how much i genuinely loved it.

the characters in great house have all experienced incredible losses -- losses of people, of items, and, in some cases, of memories. the book centers first and foremost around a writing desk. this desk has been passed through the novel's cast of characters and takes on a different meaning for each one of them (and it should be said that one of the characters in this book is the art of writing, and another, i believe, is the desk itself). the novel alternates between four main points of view, people who have each had some relationship to this desk, and its a testament to krauss' talent as a writer that these points of view weave together seamlessly, almost effortlessly. the transitions never feel abrupt, and no one character's story feels weightier than another's; krauss does a good job of remembering that grief is grief, no matter what.

but i think my most favorite part of great house is krauss' writing itself -- it's gorgeous. this may sound strange, but the aesthetics of sentences are extremely important to me. i am a person who believes that how something is said is almost -- if not equally -- as important as what is being said, and the prose in great house is definitely its brightest star. krauss manages to make ordinary details (a lock of hair, crumbs on a kitchen floor) seem extraordinary, and it's this attention to detail that grounds the book; allows its readers to truly see and connect with the hulking shadow of a desk, of a woman sitting in her armchair, of a man driving his sedan down a dark road.

the history of love, krauss' previous book, is one of my very favorites, and i was concerned that great house wouldn't live up to love's brilliancy. i needn't have worried. while this isn't a novel i'll pick up and reread often, simply because it's so emotionally wrenching,  it's one that has certainly earned a prominent place on my bookshelf, and one that i'll recommend to others and hold up as an example to the next books on my list.

photo by honey and jam, via mary


  1. I'm adding it to my list for 2011! Thanks, Megan. xo.

  2. Yep! Adding it to my list too! I love hearing about good new books, even if they are the heart-wrenching kind. :-)