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.