Great House

By Nicole Krauss

The Short Take:

This is a brilliant book, but it isn’t easily digested. Krauss is an incredibly gifted writer, and this elegant novel is proof to her prodigious talent. The longing and loss expressed through her four interwoven stories are embodied by a desk of many drawers that looms over lives, creating obsessions and fears in those who encounter it. It’s not a hard read, but you’ve got to care about existential questions to fully enjoy it.


I have to admit I left this book wanting more — more plot, more resolutions. But life isn’t exactly like that, is it? And neither is Krauss’ third novel. However, the way her characters express their feelings (largely through unspoken monologues) gives great depth to this study of relationships and how we close ourselves into separate rooms of one Great House.

Finding ways to somehow come to terms with the past plays a major role throughout. Yet, the importance — and unreliability — of memory is just as pervasive.

It’s a lovely read, but very existential in tone. If that’s your thing, you would be hard pressed to find a better book. If not… maybe you should give it a try anyway. Because Great House is a very special book.

A Little Plot:

Four different stories twine through this book:

A writer offers to keep the furniture of a poet headed for great danger in Chile, including a huge desk with many drawers. Over the years, the desk becomes unexpectedly important to her writing.

A man marries a writer who much earlier owned the same desk.  He grapples with the secrets of her life both while she lives and after she dies.

Another man tries to figure out how to reach his younger son after decades of estrangement before it is to late.

Two siblings live lives of isolation and despair, under the protective tyranny of a father who searches the world for objects and objects the Jews lost during the Holocaust, as well as the desk his once father had.

But it’s not about the plot. It’s about the human condition. And Krauss  does it beautifully.

To visit Nicole Krauss’ website click here.

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