I have been a fan of Nicole Krauss for a while, and so I jumped at the opportunity to review Great House. This novel possesses the same inventive, graceful prose that Krauss is known for. How wonderful is her prose? Even though I had previously bought and listened to The History of Love on audio I went out and bought the actual book so I could hold it in my hands and periodically savor the parts that simply left me in awe.
On first glance Great House runs along a similar theme as The History of Love. The theme has to do with the interconnectedness of people the world over and how, over time, we can trace a connection between ourselves and just about every other person living or dead. The publisher plays up this theme in the book's jacket blurb, suggesting a kind of game out of trying to connect all the seemingly unrelated characters to an antique writing desk. That does make for some fine fun for readers who enjoy a good puzzle, but there's so much more here to ponder. Not the least of which is overall composition and how it enhances another important theme - the lack of true intimacy within our closest personal connections.
Krauss divides the novel into seven separate chapters written in the first person by four separate protagonists. Three protagonists "write" six of the chapters - each its own short story, really - and the final chapter is in the voice of a fourth protagonist. What is most striking about each of these characters is the tenor of their relationships with their closest loved ones. A father, speaking of his son, says, "We move throughout the day like two hands of a clock; sometimes we overlap for a moment, then come apart again, carrying on alone in our separate cycles." Or a man, speaking about his wife of decades, says, "Here in this house live two different species, one on land and one in the water, one who clings to the surface and the other who lurks in the depths, and yet every night, through a loophole in the laws of physics, they share the same bed." Even when a woman is speaking of her lover she says, "it was impossible to talk... directly about our relationship, whereas indirectly we could talk about the most raw and intimate things."
That Krauss so exquisitely captures the essence of these flawed, yet all-too-common relationship patterns filets the characters who populate them, bringing their souls into extraordinarily clear focus. We know these people. In some instances we are these people. People who love with all their hearts but who must acknowledge and lament the reality that, much as they love someone, true intimacy can still be elusive, diaphanous as a smoke ring.
What is not elusive is the main reason I enjoyed reading Great House. For this I will borrow a quote from the book, "It would be my pleasure... and a door in the room of my life opened."
This review was originally published in October 2010, and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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