Great House by Nicole Krauss, published 2010, 289 pages
For anyone who read and loves A History of Love, you might be a little disappointed with Krauss's follow-up work. That being said, it is likely only because A History of Love was so fall-on-your-face good that perhaps Great House falls a little flat.
Clearly Krauss is dedicated to incorporating ramifications of the Holocaust into her novels, a tendency that I am personally drawn to as a reader. The effects of that devastating time should not be forgotten nor should they be fitted only to books that deal with the direct experience of those during the actual Holocaust. So I admire that Krauss has based another book on the long-term effects of those losses. She also reminds us of the seemingly mundane consequences...like the lost possessions of those who perished.
This brings us to the desk that holds together this story, split by stories with their own chapters. As in A History of Love, Krauss interweaves plots, although this time she ups the ante by using three to four instead of two. At first the plots and their characters seem unrelated, and, I have to admit, by the end I was somewhat dissatisfied by loose ends, which made me wonder why some of it was included in the first place. As the books progresses, Krauss links most of the plots together, but even within those plots, some of the characters seem superfluous.
From the beginning I was leery of a desk being used as a foundation for a novel; it just seemed too prosaic--I didn't care how incredible the desk was. And she does make it incredible, but for me it never was able to compensate for its lack of importance. I understand its importance to the characters and its symbolism to all that was lost in the Holocaust, but I still wish the object of everyone's desire had been more than just a piece of furniture.
Therefore, I took issue with the premise and the execution, but Nicole Krauss is still adept at using language lovingly (though far less so here than in A History of Love), creating dynamics between people, and telling their interior stories. She made me cry on more than one occasion while reading, and for this I give props. Some of her passages are so moving, and, true to form, they usually concern love or bereavement, that overall the book is worth a read. I do hold out hope, however, that the follow-up to Great House is as formidable a work as A History of Love, but perhaps it is unfair to ask for a second work of a lifetime.