Great House [Book Review]

Title: Great House
Author: Nicole Krauss
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 0393079988
Pages: 289
Year: 2010
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Source: ARC from BEA
Rating: 2.5/5


I’m importing this one from the publisher’s website. Sorry guys, I can’t do it myself.

For twenty-five years, a reclusive American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young Chilean poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police; one day a girl claiming to be the poet’s daughter arrives to take it away, sending the writer’s life reeling. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers, among her papers, a lock of hair that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer slowly reassembles his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis in Budapest in 1944.

Connecting these stories is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or have given it away. As the narrators of Great House make their confessions, the desk takes on more and more meaning, and comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared.

My Thoughts:

I wanted to love this book. I wanted it to be everything The History of Love was to me. Instead, I was disappointed. There is no denying that Krauss is a master of language. There are beautiful passages and haunting ideas in Great House. But I was always left wanting. I would begin to read one of the stories. I would start to care about that story and the characters. And then that story would end and I would never be satisfied. I thought this would be remedied later but it never was. I’ve closed the book and I still want to know what happened. Perhaps it is too cerebral for me. Perhaps my expectations were skewed. But I do not GET this book (I can’t even figure out how one of the stories fits in – no mention of the desk as far as I could tell). I would love to discuss it with someone who did.

My favorite story was that of Arthur and Lotte. I think I would have loved a novel based on this.

I will read Nicole Krauss’ next book. Because The History of Love remains one of my favorite books. But I am more than ready to move on from Great House.

Others’ Thoughts: Book Chatter; Take Me Away; Regular Rumination; The Avid Reader’s Musings

13 thoughts on “Great House [Book Review]

  1. Jenny February 21, 2011 / 8:54 am

    I’ve been wondering what you thought! I agree it was too cerebral for me… and I really thought it shouldn’t be so advertised to be about the desk because that has little to do with anything, LOL. I think my favorite story was actually the one about the old man and his son who had become really distant.


  2. Lu February 21, 2011 / 9:39 am

    I really felt the same way about this one, unfortunately. I wonder if I’d even feel the same way about History of Love if I read it again…. I do remember there being such subtle connections between the stories that if you weren’t really reading closely you wouldn’t notice them. I’m sure there are lots that I missed too. And now I can’t really even remember what they are. One thing I remember is that one of the characters changed name and there wasn’t really an explanation for why?


  3. Ti February 21, 2011 / 12:02 pm

    What part of the story are you wondering about?


    • Michelle February 21, 2011 / 9:10 pm

      For one thing, I didn’t understand how the story of the older man and his son was connected to the desk.


      • Robert March 22, 2011 / 1:05 pm

        The only connection I could see, flimsy at best, was that the narrator of the first story, Nadia, ended up hitting the son from the second, Dov, woith her car.


      • Amy March 24, 2011 / 4:26 pm

        Ooooohhhhh I have been wondering about this as well. Glad to see a tiny connection at least…


  4. nomadreader (Carrie) February 21, 2011 / 1:29 pm

    I read this one before reading The History of Love, and I actually liked it more. I adore her writing, but I did not think it was a novel. I really enjoyed the first section, but overall, it didn’t do much for me. I’m curious to see what Krauss does next, as I saw so many similarities between Great House and History of Love, but I didn’t love either.


  5. TopherGL February 24, 2011 / 4:01 pm

    I just hate it when I want to love a book but feel like it just wasn’t there for me. But it’s great you got through it and are looking forward to the next one she writes!


  6. Jamie March 1, 2011 / 10:37 am

    While I think I enjoyed this one a little bit more than you (I think I gave it a 3 or 3.5 stars), I was so disappointed with it. HOL is one of my favorite books and I just didn’t feel the same way about this one.

    Hmm..and can we just talk about how much talent is in this marriage between Nicole Krauss and JSF? It’s just not


  7. Marie March 13, 2011 / 8:22 pm

    Hi Michelle — I read this review soon after you posted it, starred it in my Google Reader, and now some weeks later, am finally adding my comments. Better late than never, right? 😀

    My review of Great House is at:

    if you want to read it, but to sum up: like you and many others, I really liked History of Love and was initially disappointed with this one. (Itcan be comforting to know others had similar reactions.) Because of health issues, it took me WEEKS to finish my review after I finished the book, and as the plots & ideas swirled in my head, I “resolved” a couple of issues I had, and felt more positively about the book.

    POSSIBLE SPOILER: The connection between the old man and his grown son, and the desk: the woman novelist who narrates the first section, who owned the desk for 25 years, is telling her story to someone she calls “Your Honor.” The old man’s son, Dovik, had been a judge. He’s in a coma, having been run over by the novelist. She’s telling him her story, leading up to the accident where she hit him. So Dovik and his father aren’t directly connected to the desk, but Dovik ends up connected with the novelist who’d owned the desk.

    Hopefully Krauss’s next book won’t require us to work QUITE so hard to connect the dots. A novel can be intelligent and thought-provoking without being so confusing! Kudos to you for sticking it out, and thanks for the review.


    • Michelle March 13, 2011 / 9:42 pm

      Oh, thank you so much! I understand now. I’m not really any more a fan than I was when I wrote this review but I am glad to have that piece of the puzzle.


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