Book review: ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss

A giant writing desk with an illustrious history unites many narrators in this stunning work of literature, a book that left me breathless. Nominated for the Indie Lit Awards, Great House was my first read as a literary fiction panelist. And if it’s any sign of the caliber of the other four nominated novels, I’m in for a treat.

To say author Nicole Krauss has a way with words would be akin to stating the sky is big, or the sun is hot. If I sat down to quote every memorable passage of this unique, intricate story, I’d never finish writing.

Along the same vein, I don’t quite know how to describe the plot . . . except to say that, amazingly, everything (and everyone) is connected — although in most cases, it’s not immediately clear how. Told in alternating viewpoints, we’re introduced to characters from around the world — New York, London, Israel — who all have something in common: their connection to a desk, by turns a piece to be revered or reviled. Writers populate Krauss’ rich landscape, taking turns figuring out why they write — and what. And those who love them — or misunderstand them, or injure them — are left to make sense of the giant caverns swallowing their loved ones’ lives.

I could introduce you to some characters, share a bit of their back stories. I could give examples of Krauss’ stunning prose and share the meanings I think I found within the text. But I think Great House is best discovered on your own. It’s not a pleasant saga — more than once, the grief was crushing — but it felt important. Once I closed the final page, still teeming with unanswered questions, the first thing I wanted to do was find someone with whom to discuss it. It’s a book you’ll want a friend to read, too, so you can bounce ideas and challenges off each other, nudging the puzzle pieces of the story around until you think you sense a pattern. But then again, maybe you don’t.

It’s also a book you could read twice . . . or maybe should read twice. Inside the somber prose is a sense of mystery, of finding something hidden for you and you alone. Like the last Easter egg buried in a cubby hole until fall, I feel like I could open Great House to any number of pages for the rest of my life and still not find everything Krauss hid there. At the end, knowing what I know about the characters and the desk prompted me to flip right back to the beginning.

It’s about family, loss and what is taken from us — and how we get it back. It’s about secrets and grief and love — who can give it, who can take it away. It’s about mystery, and whether we can truly know another person. It’s about the inevitability of death and our slow climb toward the end of it all . . . and what’s on the other side.

It was often confusing, yes. The separate narratives didn’t seem to fit together at all, and I often felt annoyed that just when I thought I’d really gotten to know one narrator, I was introduced to another — but those are minor issues compared to the overall beauty of the writing. Rarely uplifting but more than worthwhile, Great House isn’t a book I’ll forget.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0393079988 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library


19 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss

  1. I saw so much hype for Great House in all of the book stores that I visited over winter break. I’ve been wanting to read it as part of my “at least 1 adult book per month” personal challenge, and you just gave me a whole lot of extra motivation. In the beginning when you were talking about his way with words and the incredible quoteability of the text, I couldn’t stop thinking about my current read: The Book Thief. Like Nicole Krauss seems to be, Markus Zusak is really a master of the written word.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m adding Great House to my list.

  2. I have been looking forward to this book since I heard about it – I just need to get to it! You have motivated me to move it up on my list! Thanks for the great review – I adore books with multiple viewpoints and extra layers

  3. I’m really glad to see how much you liked this. I just recently started reading this and not very far (right around the beginning of chapter 2) decided I do not like this and was frustrated because I didn’t understand anything that was happening or being said. But once I realized it was a completely different narrator with a different story it became a little better and I was wondering where it was all going to go. I’ll take your word for it and finish it and see what I think!!

  4. I haven’t seen this book on blogs as much as others which has had the opposite effect a book usually has in that situation – instead of being more interested I’ve not taken note of it. The cover’s fab however, and I like the sound of a mystery that lasts longer than reading the book.

  5. You’ve made this book sound very appealing, although I think I should wait a little while before I read it. I don’t think I’m in the right frame of mind for it right now.

  6. This book has been speaking to me…from bookstores, magazines, reviews, that you’d think I’d get the hint. I’m taking my TBR Dare now, but I could still read it if I could convince my book club to read it…

  7. I need to read this! I loved her novel ‘The History of Love’ – it made me cry on public transit! So this is one I think I might like as well, in a, it will move me, kinda way.

  8. i’ve seen this one popping up everywhere lately but am hesitant to pick it up because i struggled mightily with her previous book. she is an unbelievably talented author but maybe i was in the wrong frame of mind for the book. meg, if you are raving, then i have to give krauss another shot.

  9. I just read this one too, and I definitely think it’s a book that bears re-reading. In an interview, Krauss talked about her sense that the book was about what we inherit from others, mostly from our parents, and the desk was symbolic of that.

    There are layers and layers of complexity, all of them beautifully written.

  10. What a wonderful review. This book was recommended to me on Amazon several times but I didn’t really know what it was about so I just skipped past it in favor of something that was on my list. Now I think I’ll have to go back and get this one to dig into. It sounds like one of those books that you always want to bring up and recommend.

  11. This is the best and most satisfying review of Krauss’s newest novel that I have read. I love Krauss, and I loved Great House precisely because it unsettled me. When I finished it, I was bumfuddled and unsatisfied, but fifteen minutes after I closed it, I was shouting “She’s a GENIUS!”

  12. great review!!! you make me want to read this book right now even though i’m in the mood for a light and uplifting book. i’ll have to add this one on my wishlist.

  13. Pingback: The Indie Lit Awards – Finished the Reading. Whoop! « amused, bemused and confused

  14. I just finished it and loved it – but one thing bothered me – the Aaron character (the older man in Israel with his son Dov) did NOT seem connected. I just read an LA Times review that says the same thing – but you seem to have made the connection, as have others. I’m fairly sure I missed it. Any chance you could clue me in? Thanks for humoring me…great blog, by the way!

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