Great House by Nicole Krauss


Thanks for all your emails and phone calls; I am doing just fine, thanks. The reason I’ve not blogged in a while is that I’ve been reading! As you know, my Literary Masters Book Groups’ selected book for this coming February has not yet been announced. I purposely left that month open so I could choose a red-hot-just-won-the-award prize-winning novel. After all, this time of year is quite exciting; we have the Nobel in Literature, the Man Booker, and, days away, the National Book Award.

The book I’m blogging about today–Great House by Nicole Krauss–is a finalist for the National Book Award. I read a great review of this novel, and I love last year’s National Book Award Winner, Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. You know I love that book–it’s this month’s selected novel!

But back to Great House. I am so torn about this book. I feel like the author wrote the book on a pile of cards, shuffled the cards, dropped the cards, picked them and shuffled them some more, then published the book. I get the post-modern literary thing, really, I do, but I just kept thinking while reading this book, did she have to make it this so bloody difficult to follow? Is the structure carrying some meaning to me as reader?

The different chapters or sections of the book are mirror-imaged against each other, with the center (or roof if you like an image of a house) being “Lies Told by Children.” The chapters are tied together through the seemingly disparate characters and a certain significant desk, although I can understand an impatient reader missing the connections altogether. I confess, I finished the book–and believe me, I read this book carefully–and I am still wondering who was related to whom and who did what. I think the lies (referred to above in the chapter title) are actually told by the father, not the children, but I’m not sure.

There are certain books with a complicated structure whose writing is so beautiful it pulls you through the difficulty of the plot and in the end you realize that the structure of the story is indeed perfect to its whole. I’m thinking of The English Patient, for example. And Let the Great World Spin, while not having an extremely complex structure, still demands a certain amount of attention from the reader to make all the wonderful connections between the ostensibly separate chapters. But McCann’s writing is so poetic, the effort that the reader makes is a pleasurable one.

I’m sorry I can’t say the same for Great House. Perhaps a second reading with illuminate a lot for me, but I’m not sure I want to spend my time re-reading it. On the one hand, I’d like my book groups to read it, so we can all figure it out. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to subject my members to such a task.

I’m going to wait for the National Book Awards announcement this week. Should Great House win, I’m sure lots of people will write about it, and perhaps I can glean something from what they say. Perhaps even Nicole Krauss will shed some light on her work. So, stay tuned. Perhaps there’s more to come.

One thought on “Great House by Nicole Krauss

  1. I'm glad you're back to blogging! I actually read the Great House as well and have to agree with you. But I'm looking forward to seeing what wins the National Book Awards!

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