My plans to read the Orange Longlist of 2011 provided the best excuse to buy this book. I had wanted to read the new Nicole Krauss ever since I first heard people mentioning the ARCs they received of this book at BEA. I was so jealous. Last year, before blogging, I read The History of Love and it made such an impression on me. Where Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated was one of the best books I had read in years, The History of Love felt to me to accomplish the same, with a less complicated feel to it, making me like it even more. And so, yes, my expectations were high when I started reading Great House. Even if I had been warned beforehand that most bloggers did not seem to love this as they did The History of Love.
I am going to give you the plot-summary as it is given by the publisher, because I really do not know a better way to summarize the story. Except maybe: “It is all about this one desk that connects the life stories of several people”
For twenty-five years, a reclusive American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young Chilean poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police; one day a girl claiming to be the poet’s daughter arrives to take it away, sending the writer’s life reeling. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers, among her papers, a lock of hair that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer slowly reassembles his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis in Budapest in 1944.
Connecting these stories is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or have given it away. As the narrators of Great House make their confessions, the desk takes on more and more meaning, and comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared.
Had you asked me what I thought about the book when I was 50 pages in, I would have told you: “This is definitely the best book I have read this year. And I am almost certain I have found my favourite for the rest of the year”. The writing was simply that captivating and beautiful. There is just something about Nicole Krauss’ style. It makes me feel comforted, at home. I would love to be able to wrap myself in a blanket of her words.
But then, something happened. The stories started to drag a little. I was still interested & definitely still felt the joy of her writing style, but something was missing. Something that I had felt while reading The History of Love. There is an emotional attachment lacking in this book, a feeling that you know and care for the characters, that makes it harder to love. Is it because a desk is at the centre of the story? [Is it because we never find out what actually happens to the desk? That we never find out what is in those locked drawers mentioned in the beginning of the book? (or do we? And have I forgotten, because I couldn't focus as much anymore?)]. I know the last part of the book should have been the clue to connecting all the stories, to bringing them together in a grand manner. But I felt I was missing out. As if I did not thoroughly understand what was meant. Or maybe it was more that I did not know how to connect this idea of Israel or Jerusalem. What exactly does Krauss mean? I do not want to connect it to anything political, so I didn’t. But it left me feeling like I didn’t understand. And so, yes, there was something lacking in the book for me. And I know it could have been just my limited understanding, maybe I in fact missed something? I don’t know.
And yet, this is not to say I disliked the book. I did not. The style made up enough for me to say that I did enjoy reading it. I just wasn’t touched as I had anticipated, or hoped for, before hand. I end up feeling melancholy every time I think about it, because those first 50 pages. Just. Wow.