j's Reviews > Great House

Great House by Nicole Krauss
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's review
Nov 17, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 2010, 52-in-2010, library-books, stories-no-wait-a-novel-no-wait, vote-getters
Read from November 04 to 10, 2010

So I say again: writing a book of short stories, fitting them together Tetris-like, and calling it a novel DOES NOT MAKE YOUR BOOK A NOVEL. Also telling your publisher to put "a novel" on the cover after the title DOES NOT MAKE YOUR BOOK A NOVEL. If you write a collection of short stories, IT IS OK TO CALL IT A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. Because you are Nicole Krauss, especially, because you will probably STILL BE NOMINATED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD.


(EDIT: But YOU WON'T WIN, thankfully! Lord of Misrule will win.)


This is a very well written book throughout, meaning sentence by sentence. Nicole Krauss can string words together effortlessly, can create haunting and memorable imagery through evocative metaphors you'd never dream of. But... all those sentences didn't add up to much of anything for me. It definitely feels like the form is what interests her, but the Big Idea (interconnected stories that are all related to the perhaps malovelent presence of an imposing desk, its many tiny drawers standing in for the melodramatic seekrits! and secret pains of its many owners) obscures the characters.

It sounds interesting, but it isn't. It's monotonous, and confusing. Puzzling out the structure is a pain in the neck because the stories, each with a different narrator, all sound the same, whether the speaker is a middle-aged American woman or an elderly male Hungarian Jew. Everyone mopes about the WEIGHT OF MEMORY (this was probably explained to me on the jacket copy because I honestly had a hard enough time concentrating on the plot), which is symbolized by furniture and also by how they constantly talk about their horrible memories. I don't have to like the characters, but not a one of them had much of a spark, which made reading about them distasteful AND dull.

I can't say I'm surprised this was nominated for the National Book Award, but I am disappointed, because I think if it wins, a lot of extra people are going to read it, and a lot of them aren't going to like it. And I read a lot of other books this year, books that weren't nominated, that I think would benefit from the extra attention and might also be a lot less likely to alienate readers. For all of the depth of talent on display in the prose, this is an oddly lifeless book, and I don't see it connecting with most readers, even "serious readers."

In conclusion: I would not recommend Great House: A Collection of Stories and I certainly don't recommend Great House: A Novel.
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Reading Progress

11/04 page 40
11/09 page 171
59.0% "more hungarian jews. it must be theme week."
11/09 page 238
82.0% "did all the hip new york authors get together this year and decide: no novels, linking short stories, that oughta hold the little SOBs?" 2 comments
03/30 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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message 1: by Krok Zero (new)

Krok Zero Preach it brutha

message 2: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j thank you. please do not read this. it will not work for you at all.

message 3: by Krok Zero (new)

Krok Zero Wasn't planning on it and your review double-convinced me not to.

message 4: by Cait (new) - added it

Cait Poytress I read 60 something pages of this yesterday before throwing it into the 'take back to the library pile'. I was feeling guilty about it until I read your review. Now I'm just relieved. Thanks!

message 5: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j i really wish i had done the same (instead i had to push to finish it before it was due). i kept expecting it all to coalesce into something more interesting so i kept reading. i blame my goal to read 100 books this year: once i'm far enough into a book to realize i don't like it, i'm also far enough in to not want to lose out on adding to the list.

next year my goal is no bad books.

Elizabeth Sulzby Excellent review, Joel. Like a few others, I am just pushing myself through the book. It seems that multiple interwoven viewpoints has become just another gimmick.

message 7: by Brixton (new)

Brixton stories-no-wait-a-novel-no-wait, haha! I find myself often perplexed (oftener annoyed) at the ": A Novel" fad, and wish it would go away soon.

Stacey AMEN!!!

message 9: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j thanks! i like this book less the farther away from it i get.

message 10: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j yeah they are pretty obnoxious, aren't they? especially JSF. stalwart vegetarian though, gotta give him that.

message 11: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j yeah i was never quite clear on where he stood on that after eating animals, since all the moral arguments he makes apply to dairy as well for the most part.

message 12: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen Thank you for this review! Dying to commiserate with someone after reading the book and you put into words exactly how I felt!

message 13: by j (last edited Jan 10, 2011 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

j i haven't read that one, but probably.

what chafes is the way these books are being sold to me. i KNOW i have a prejudice against short stories so generally i don't read them. trying to trick readers is kind of annoying. at least olive kitteridge uses the "in stories" qualifier.

i also reserve the right to totally contradict myself whenever i want, to whit: a visit from the goon squad, which uses this same format (but at least the words "a novel" appear nowhere on the cover) was a favorite from 2010.

Rachael Lee I had no idea the art form of the novel had such a concrete definition that someone could justifiably caps-lock scream about an author's disregard for it over the internet. You should hold a seminar for novel-writers everywhere to ensure that everyone is using the same form, structure and standards across the board; I can only imagine it would cause all of our reading lives to be more interesting and vivacious if people were only allowed to write a particular type of novel.

message 15: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j i had no idea the art form of humorlessness had such a concrete definition that someone could justifiably post such a tiresome sarcastic comment about a reviewer's disregard for a novel over the internet. so we both learned something this day.

message 16: by Tim (new) - rated it 1 star

Tim Lepczyk Made it to page 80 and calling it quits. Thanks for the heads up.

message 17: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j excellent choice. if you weren't enjoying it by that point, it isn't the book for you.

message 18: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Forewarned, I'll still give it a go.

Christine After reading your review, It was like you we're in my head concerning the "disjointed-ness" of the stories. I adored Part 1... I wanted to scream during Part 2.

I don't usually read or comment on reviews, but I wanted to see how many fellow readers felt as I did!

message 20: by Elizabeth (last edited Oct 03, 2012 03:32PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Elizabeth Sulzby Scott wrote: "Does this mean that Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories, may really just be short stories? I was too generous with my 2 stars on that one. To think it beat out Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Dov..."

I had to whip myself to read Olive Kitteridge. In the end I thought it was worth reading but still cannot imagine how popular it was. Maybe people bought and left it on the nightstand. Louise Erdich's connected stories work for me, within story collections and across her books. So do Ellen Gilchrist's although they usually have a more humorous surface structure.

message 21: by Libbie Hawker (new)

Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside) Hmmmm. I think I might want to read it just to check out Krauss's wordplay. I feel forewarned that it won't have much of a plot, so that's good. But I don't think I've ever read her stuff before, and I am bizarrely intrigued by those unusual metaphors you mentioned.

message 22: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse Its funny ---I've had this book since it first came out. (read a few pages). 'Everyone' ---including my Rabbi (I'm friends with her --and we both enjoy a wide range of books styles), told me this book didn't compare to her book "The History of Love".

'everyone' keeps saying ...'don't bother' with reading it. (I haven't yet), but like *Lavender* ----I might check it out being 'very' 'forewarned'.

If people have missed reading "THE HISTORY of LOVE" by Nicole Krauss ---ADD it to your MUST READ list. Its WONDERFUL!!!!

message 23: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Hey! You got cited in a review essay at The Millions . Not by name (which I guess I get, but--annoying! snobbish! At least hyperlink!--they plucked a pretty fine sentence from your review.

message 24: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse Hi Mike, You're so cool..........(just for writing me and sharing)!!! Thanks!

I'll have to look for it. (I gotta laugh ---because as much as I love to read ---I know I write like 'shit').

message 25: by j (new) - rated it 2 stars

j Mike wrote: "Hey! You got cited in a review essay at
The Millions
. Not by name (which I guess I get, but--annoying! snobbish! At least hyperlink!--they plucked a pretty fine sentence from your review."

well i'll be. thanks for the tip!

message 26: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh lol and I thought Mike was talking to me.......hahaha!

Pretty cool Joel!

message 27: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason I'm just catching this--sorry for the confusion, Elyse. Can I still be cool?

message 28: by Elyse (last edited Feb 19, 2013 10:43AM) (new) - added it

Elyse Yes..........smart.....witty..........authentic soul.....(with compassion) ....and 'fun'...

so, YES, cool! (and thank you for the George Saunders 'tips')

message 29: by K (new) - added it

K Ouch. hmmm. I still don't understand, after an entire paragraph, why you didn't find this "book" worthy.

Daphne this review is gold!

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