Great House (18 cents)

There are almost 400 reader-reviewers of Nicole Krauss’ “The History of Love” who have posted reviews on Amazon.com – 3/4 of these reviewers gave the book five (approximately 200) or four (approximately 100) stars. I thought the book was wonderful. I think I would have given it five stars.

Many of these reader-reviewers awaited Krauss’ next book, published about a year and a half ago, titled “Great House”. Approximately 100 have rated and reviewed the book on Amazon.com. The results are a bit different – fewer than 50% have given the book four or five stars, and many reviewers expressed their disappointment.

It is always interesting to me when reviews are so varied. What is it in a book that can result in such different opinions? I don’t have an answer to that question. I did enjoy Great House – I think it deserves at least four stars.

The book is in two parts, and is a compilation of four connected novellas, with three of four novellas split between the first and second parts. Most of the individual stories take place over a spread of time, and there is consequently, both within stories and between stories, a lot of moving back and forth in time. This seemed to confuse and disturb some readers, who wrote that they had a hard time keeping the characters in mind. No one criticized the writing itself – even the most critical of reviewers complimented Ms. Krauss on her use of language.

The book is set, for the most part, in New York, London, Oxford, and Jerusalem. The stories are connected because of a beautiful, many-drawered, roll top desk, which is preserved, moved, sold, given away and locked up, and which plays a role in each of the stories. I am not going to give away the storyline.

It is true that if I were to have written this book (something that I am completely incapable of doing), I would probably have told the same story in a linear manner. There was this desk, it was separated from its owner, it went here and there, and there and here, and with every move it made, there was a story. I would have written the book like a detective story, a Where’s Waldo story. Most everything would have been in the book, it would have been easier to follow, and it would have been a good book. But Nicole Krauss wrote a better book.

Some of the reviewers criticized the book for having some extraneous story lines. I actually agree with these comments. There were some sections that I could have done without – I am thinking particularly about the Jerusalem motorcyclist, though there were others. And it is also true that I do have some questions about the plot – some things I can’t explain (I assume that this is my problem, and not the book’s). And a few scenes that seemed a little less than credible. But these are minor issues – they bring the book from five to four stars, perhaps. And that’s OK with me.

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