Thursday, September 16, 2010

Great House - Yes, It Lives up to its Rep

I scarcely know where to begin in talking about Nicole Krauss and her latest novel Great House. I wouldn't want to do the book a disservice by leaving you with my previous posting or mislead you into thinking the book is only about a desk. Naturally, it is so much more, so much deeper than that, which is why it reminded me of The Red Violin.

The desk has belonged to many people over the ages and has meant something to each person - has almost inhabited each owner in a way. I had to go to Ms. Krauss's website - -  to read an interview with her in which she remarks that the novel is really about memory, or as she calls it, "emotional inheritance." Isn't that a fabulous term? That's why I love writers so much. How do they do it? How does someone so young find the depth or imagination to write characters at every stage of life, rendering them so fully formed?

Maybe it's only because I had such a wonderfully inclusive and insightful book group at the library today to analyze Olive Kitteridge that I'm making this comparison, but it seems to me that, like Elizabeth Strout, Krauss has taken a series of stand alone stories and used the conceit of the desk to knit them into a perfect whole. Though it takes some concentration to read, and while you may find yourself returning to previous sections to be sure you haven't missed something, you will be rewarded with amazement at what can be accomplished with the English language.

The setting fluidly runs from New York to London, and Budapest to Jerusalem. There are several main characters, one a famous novelist who narrates much of the novel, another, Mr. Weisz, an antiques dealer whose specialty is tracking down valuables stolen from victims of the Nazi purge and Holocaust, returning them to their families or heirs.

The theme of familial relationships looms large in this ambitious, complicated novel. The difficult relationships between parents and children is heartbreaking in its realism, in its ultimately missed connections, disappointments, unstated desires, loss and longing. But please don't think that I'm saying this novel is depressing - it is not. At the risk of leaning on the most overused word in book reviewing, it is luminous!

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