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!