In Great House, Nicole Krauss weaves together the stories of five different families, each of whom, at some point, owns or uses the same wooden desk. The desk is passed down, left behind, lost and found but it’s not the only thing the characters have in common: they’re also tied together by human threads of loss, disillusionment, grief, and passion. Five different narrators read alternate sections, giving voice to men and women whose lives intersect in very different ways.
The five short pieces All Rise, True Kindness, Swimming Holes, Lies Told by Children, and Weisz are narrated respectively by Alma Cuervo, George Guidall, Robert McKenzie, Celeste Ciulla, and Paul Hecht. Each narrator puts his or her own style into the text: Cuervo’s thoughtful writer recollects her relationship with a poet who left the desk in her care; Guidall’s sharply-voiced father pines for a relationship with his adult son; McKenzie’s elegant widower discovers a long-held secret about his dead wife and the desk she was so attached to; Ciulla describes her relationship with a pair of siblings under the control of a powerful parent; and Hecht gives life to a man on a lifelong quest to recreate the most important moment of his childhood. Every one of them brings individual pacing, tone, and emphasis to the main and secondary characters, turning the vignettes into a cohesive whole. Great House, which was just nominated for a National Book Award, isn’t a plot-heavy novel, but Krauss’ writing is delicate and haunting, with a lyrical, poignant style that the narrators focus into emotional journeys through each character’s past and present. Blythe Copeland
From the internationally best-selling author of The History of Love comes this stunning novel. Great House follows the multiple owners of one writing desk and how the desk shapes their lives. A young novelist inherited the desk from a poet taken by Pinochet’s police. Then the desk is stolen from her by the poet’s supposed daughter. In its drawers, another man discovers a long-kept secret about his wife. And a Jerusalem antiques dealer uses the desk in his family’s study, which was devastated by the Nazis in 1944.
©2010 Nicole Krauss (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
"This stunning work showcases Krauss's consistent talent.... The sharply etched characters seem at first arbitrarily linked across time and space, but Krauss pulls together the disparate elements, settings, characters, and fragile connective tissue to form a formidable and haunting mosaic of loss and profound sorrow. (Publishers Weekly)
“The most heartbreaking part of Great House, the third novel by Nicole Krauss, is having to finish it…As the mysteries of this beautifully written novel come spooling out, you’ll marvel at how profoundly one brilliantly crafted metaphor involving a mute wooden artifact can remind us what it means to be alive.” (Rachel Rosenblit, Elle)
“Krauss’ masterful rendition of character is breathtaking, compelling.... This tour de force of fiction writing will deeply satisfy fans of the author’s first two books and bring her legions more.” (Booklist, Starred Review)
This novel and its mediations on loss and loneliness and the connections that the characters from different stories eventually have with each other are hard to dwell on when you are listening to it. I believe that reading it would be better. I got a hard copy and after reading certain sections and seeing words repeated, I was able to make the connections that a careful reader would pick up on, which answered a bunch of questions for me about who is who in the novel. Just listening in the car, this was not something I could do, and I was happy I read it. The different stories all have separate narrators and this was helpful as they are interspersed with each other, and otherwise it would have been hard to know who was talking.
I totally enjoyed this book. Haven't we all inherited some piece of furniture , or a book, or something that connects us with a very interesting past?
This book grabbed my attention from the very beginning. It is worth a good listen. I even sat down in my living room, after everybody else was in bed ... I enjoyed it.
The stories that comprise the story of the desk, the interconnectedness, the longing, loss and pain are so palpable, so immense that only the desk itself could sort and carry it all. Furniture as character, imbued with life and living, physical and psychological characteristics -- it works.
These are not "vignettes," they are different aspects of the same stories told technically out of chronological order, but artistically told in exactly the right order like the thread of Ariadne, unraveling slowly, surely and completely. Much is left unsaid/unresolved. Questions remain unanswered, but if you can enter the dream of this journey, everything is revealed. The writing is fresh and yet classically constructed. The allusions, ancient and new are guideposts; the characters are cut from one massive fabric of life and yet they are separate and whole. The story is not like a plot. It is a story of many people, many years and many artifacts. Will it change your life? Probably not. Will you laugh? Probably not? Will you weep? Maybe, maybe not. You will recognize yourself and your own thoughts in some passages and you will find nothing of yourself in others. Is it a page-turner? Absolutely? At the end, does it all make sense? Most of it, and yet nothing is senseless or falsely placed. Not for everyone, not nearly as accessible as Krauss' "The History of Love," it is deeper and more challenging. Terrific.
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
I thought the book sounded very interesting when I started, but the further I got into it, the more I wondered what it was about. A series of different vignettes all revolving around a desk that really has nothing substantial to do with the meat of the plots. I guess Krauss was trying to come up with a connection between these stories and used a desk to do it. This book did not work for me at all. I felt no connection to any of the characters. Not one was likeable. I did not enjoy the style of writing either, and it was difficult to know which story she was talking about because names were rare throughout the book. Complicated can be good, but in the end you hope for closure or at the very least some sort of connection. I got neither. This was my first and last Krauss book. I read in another review someone said “the thrust is very cerebral, rather than visceral”, as obscure as this statement may be, it does summarize the book rather nicely.
The narration was the only thing that kept me going.
After hearing an interesting, not quite positive, review on NPR, I decided to give this book a try. What a waste of time and money. The story was disjointed and there were no characters I could be interested in. It was overly wordy and even after listening several times to the same section, I was still confused. What was the whole thing about the great white shark? Save your credits or money. I must admit the narration was excellent but still didn't make any of the characters interesting. I hope the story came together at the end,but I didn't get that far.
I think I would have liked this book more if the narration hadn't been so oddly directed. The women narrators were both like public radio announcers, completely without inflection or personality. I don't understand those choices at all. The men were much better, with the possible exception of Weiss at the end... again, very flat.
A librarian who loves to read, whether in print or in the air
It's easy to be put off this book...it is densely written, with each character focusing at an almost excruciating level on their inner life.
It's not a happy book. Plus, the multiple narrators relating seemingly unrelated stories could confuse anyone who's not paying attention.
However, this is one of those books that will definitely reward the patient listener.
About loss, death and ultimately the meaning of life, it is a powerful novel, with richly drawn characters. It definitely left me wanting to know more about what came next; and it's one of those rare books that I plan to re-read.
Ce n'est pas grave!
I was captivated by this story, but felt that it fell down about two thirds of the way through the book. Then it became somewhat convoluted. I would like to get hold of a hard copy from the library some time soon and see if I can make sense of some of the loose threads. I found the narration to be enjoyable.
Say something about yourself!
i like this author and her husbands work.. although this book, i dont know maybe im not smart enough, but it was tough to follow.. but i did stick it out.. it was somewhat sad.. i think i remember it ending on a dime.
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