Recent Reading: Not-So-Great House

So I’m a big Nicole Krauss fan, and like a lot of people, I absolutely adored The History of Love.

Actually, adored is putting it lightly. I was crazy for it.

There are some books (that I find more rarely than you might think by my crazed ramblings in here) that I just devour. I started The History of Love thinking it was going to be a leisurely yet enjoyable read and I soon became enthralled. Each page was just so, so very good. I had to finish it. I couldn’t wait to get to the next page, the next passage, the next sentence even. I couldn’t put it down. It was the only thing I could think about. I was obsessed.  It was funny and poetic and thoughtful and creative and sad and happy and lovely at times and so very very beautiful at others. Sigh…

Yes, I think it’s safe to say, I ate that shit up. I loved that book. I still do.

But this is all old news. What’s new ?

Well, mostly this:

Naturally,when I heard that Nicole Krauss’s new novel, Great House had finally arrived I was thrilled. I even went and bought the hardcover edition. (Unless it is a particularly beautiful book like The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet or something on sale I can usually wait for the paperback.) And, well, I really really wanted to like Great House. Really I did. But I just couldn’t.

Here’s the thing:
It was not good and I would not recommend it.

I’d much rather talk about books I love instead of books I do not love quite so much (I can’t say I hated this book, but no, no I did not love it) so I’ll try to make this relatively quick…

Great House is similar to The History of Love in a few ways…

  1. It’s a combination of stories, different people’s stories, that are connected.
  2. The thing that connects the stories is an (arguably) inanimate object—In The History of Love it’s a book. In Great House it’s a desk.
  3. One of the stories is about a writer.

And okay, there are probably more ways, but that’s all I can think of right now. (Like I said, trying to make it quick)

So here’s one way they aren’t alike…

Great House isn’t funny. There is little or no comedy in it. (If there was comedy in it, I don’t remember any of it.) It was mostly a lot of different people talking about how sad they were… which sometimes can be really cool. But for the majority of the book I didn’t know what they were so sad about. It was almost like the sadness and the reason for the sadness was the mystery driving the story forward. Kind of like this impending sense of doom hovering over things but the doom is already there and you’re left wondering what made it impend (new word that makes no sense out of this context) in the first place.

And this too can be really cool at times.

But here’s the thing (the other thing, that is different from the first thing mentioned above):

When I finally found out why the characters were so sad, it was disappointing. And maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think you should read a novel wanting something bad to happen to the characters. Or wanting something bad to have happened to the characters.

Well, okay, sometimes that’s cool too but I don’t think that’s what Krauss was going for in this case.

Most of all, one of the characters that took up the most narrative time was a woman named Nadia, who reminded me a bit too much of the heroine in Eat, Pray, Love. (And I hate that book.)

The History of Love, on the other hand,  is hilarious. It’s fun to read. The characters can talk about something sad and painful yet still make me laugh. Krauss can be covering  the heaviest of subjects and yet (and  yet…and yet…and yet…) it still comes across as light… and yet, not too light. Because of course the novel gets heavy at times but the comedy and the laughter gave me, the reader, a way to access the seriousness of the novel in a way that not only felt real and genuine, but was enjoyable.

I definitely don’t think every novel should be funny. There are infinite ways to tell a story and sometimes the tone a writer takes shouldn’t be funny. I’m not saying Great House should have been, but it might have helped. And Krauss is so good at it that I’d love to see her do it more.

I dunno, all this backtracking on my own opinions has me thinking…

I think the main thing was that it didn’t seem genuine to me. I didn’t connect. There was no Leo Gursky or Alma. There was just Nadine and then this other girl who’s name I don’t remember because she didn’t even become enough of a character to make me remember her, and this other guy and his sister, who okay were kind of cool but not around that much and I never got to hear anything from them, and then there was this old guy and his son, who were my favorite characters but I wish I could have learned more about them. They were pretty interesting actually.

Which goes to show, the novel had it’s moments. But, I dunno, I guess it just didn’t do it for me.

I guess, “I’m just not that into it.”

Either way, next time I write in here I hope it’s about a new love. I’ve had bad luck with novels lately but it’s been a good reading year overall. One of my best actually. So for now it’s back to short stories.

(I started Joe Meno’s, Demons in the Spring and it’s amazing so far.)

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