Review: Great House

Great House Book Cover

Great House
By Nicole Krauss
W.W. Norton
October 2010

The Short of It:

With its winding, spinning narrative, Great House manages to pull you in, only to be pushed away with a firm hand later.

The Rest of It:

I have mixed feelings about Great House. The story centers around a desk as it travels from owner to owner. To some, the desk is just a mere vessel to write letters at. To others, it is a more important piece, vital to the creative writing process. This wooden desk is quite unique, in that it contains 19 drawers which allow the owner to secret away little bits of life. Large and imposing, this desk seems to loom over its owners when they are in possession of it, and remind them of their past lives when it’s gone.

Krauss weaves in and out of different narratives going back and forth in time. The structure of the novel is quite complex and takes some time to get used to. It took many passes at reading the novel for me to get a feel for her style. I find this to be the case with most Literary Fiction, but with Great House, the extra effort didn’t reward me in the way that I expected it would. The story fell flat and the some of the characters lacked depth.

The one storyline that I was very taken with, is the one where Lotte’s husband finds out that his wife has secrets.  I was completely absorbed by that story, but with the weaving narrative, once you find yourself absorbed, you are then suddenly pushed back into a different narrative. This gave the novel a disjointed feeling. Not to say that the transitions weren’t smooth, they were, but it’s like watching a riveting TV show while your children are yapping incessantly at you. You simply want to go back to the story… not be pulled away from it and forced to look elsewhere.

After re-reading the last third of the novel three times, I did experience the sense of loss that I felt the author was trying to convey. The desk becomes a Jewish symbol of survival and serves as a reminder of love and loss. The last third of the book is very powerful and thought-provoking but the novel as a whole felt a bit jagged around the edges. I didn’t feel that the stories were fully explored and it left me with an empty, unfinished feeling.

2010 Indie Lit Awards Lit Fic Finalist

I read this for the 2010 Indie Lit Awards and although I do have some issues with how it was pieced together, I appreciate the complexity of the novel itself.

Source: Purchased

27 thoughts on “Review: Great House”

    1. I just listened to an interview Krauss had with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm and after listening to her, I do feel that I understood what she was trying to do, but I’m not sure she succeeded in doing it. I haven’t read The History of Love, but I’d be willing to check it out to see how the writing compares.

  1. I liked your honest review about this book. I’m not a huge fan of Krauss – I didn’t like The History of Love. Its weird because she is a good writer, but somewhere along the way the story gets rather lost and becomes underwhelming and leaves me wondering why did I bother at all. I’m not sure about this new one – I’d heard so many great things about it, which is why I’m glad I read Matt’s post and yours. Now I know that I’m not going to bother with this book anytime soon. Cheers!

    1. As you said, the woman can write but something is lost along the way. Perhaps that is her intent…for the reader to pick-up the pieces on their own?? I wanted her to push the envelope a bit more and really delve into these characters. Once things got a tad uncomfortable it’s like she would just pick-up and move onto the next group of characters.

  2. I haven’t yet read anything by this author and haven’t come across too many reviews of this one so hadn’t decided whether I would be reading this one or not. The jury’s still out. I like the premise, at least.

  3. I had a similar reaction to this one. I loved, loved, loved the writing. I most enjoyed the first section, but after that, the “novel” (I’m not convinced it’s a novel) meandered too much for me. I want to re-read it to see if it would seem more cohesive, but I haven’t made the time yet. I had similar problems with The History of Love, so perhaps I just don’t love the way Nicole Krauss tell stories the way everyone else does.

    1. I’m glad they come across that way because I often feel the opposite. I tend to write about how a book makes me feel, and that works for some readers but not all.

  4. I love your “the short of it” description. Well written!

    And I was considering this one and might still check it out. But I know what you mean when you get involved in one story and then get pulled away from it — it is frustrating.

  5. Thanks for the review, Ti. I’ve been curious about this book, as well as The History of Love. I’ve recently finished Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud… and am quite curious to compare their styles.

  6. I have read only mixed reviews for this book. I also listened to an audio book discussion on Slate’s Doulbe X that you might find interesting…. they didn’t care for it much but I do love listening to people discuss the book.

  7. Hi Ti–
    I hope you don’t mind–but I am using this comment box to test a gravatar I thought I had created…

  8. I liked Great House as much as her first novel – The History of Love. I agree with you that it seemed disjointed, until I just relaxed and went with the story – then, I thought it became one of the best I’ve read.

  9. History of Love has a suffragette theme. If you like Lake of Dreams – the new Kim Edwards book (Memory Keeper’s Daughter author), you’ll like History… – both good reads.

  10. I loved A history of Love and I think my expectations were too high for thsi book. I still thought Krauss’ writing was divine, but the story didn’t flow in the same way. Great review!

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