Great House by Nicole Krauss

A common criticism of this book is that it’s more like four short stories than a novel. It’s true the four narratives, with a little tinkering, could stand alone as brilliant inspired stories.  There’s a suspicion too that Nicole Krauss has difficulties writing novels. Only two in ten years – in stark contrast to someone like Murakami who knocks them out with what’s becoming almost a facile (and self-harming) ease. The stories are connected by a mysterious writing desk (reminiscent of Edmund de Waal’s  The Hare with Amber Eyes when it’s a collection of Japanese netsuke that are used to follow bloodlines). Though the desk vanishes for great stretches of the narrative it haunts the lives of every character in these pages. Initially the desk is another victim of the Nazis. It vanishes from the home of a Jewish family in Germany. At the heart of the book is an antiques dealer who restores furniture looted by the Nazis to their Jewish owners. So the desk becomes a symbol of both home and heritage and in Great House we see how it affects the lives of a truly fabulous cast of characters.  The characters are so vividly engaging that we miss them when they are gone – which is probably my only misgiving about this book. It’s difficult to keep the bigger picture in mind because of the overwhelming sweep and luminosity of each new page. It’s a bit like falling in love when the new lover utterly eclipses all who have come before. But it has to be said that there’s more brilliant writing in this book than any I’ve read this year so, on the whole, a massive thumbs up from me. And just wish Nicole Krauss was more prolific.


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