Sharpen those pencils; align the papers; brew the coffee; arrange the space – delay tactics? or necessary preparation for inviting the writing muse? Nicole
Krauss likes to use writers as her characters; in The History of Love, she focuses on a manuscript to connect them. In Great House, it’s the writers’ desk.
More like a collection of unrelated short stories, the novel is an expansion of her short story, “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky,” first published in Harper’s magazine.*
Krauss begins with Nadia, the reclusive novelist who uses Daniel Varsky’s nineteenth century desk for twenty-seven years, after the poet dies at the hand of terrorists in Chile. The desk had been her inspiration, and she becomes blocked when it is suddenly reclaimed, and shipped from New York to Israel.
From here, Krauss begins her mosaic as she backtracks into the desk’s history and narrates the stories of the four different lives it affects: Nadia, the writer; an unnamed Israeli widower; Arthur, a retired Oxford don; and Isabel, a New Yorker. Holocaust survivors become one thread; painful memories lost to Alzheimer’s another; generational ignorance, regret, and loss weave throughout.
A cliffhanger appears at the end of each chapter, with a new set of characters each time. Krauss’s stream of consciousness style only adds to the confusion, but her purpose seems not so much to solve the mystery as to immerse you in the loves, lives, and losses of her characters.
The desk reappears regularly – somehow connected to a writer – and teasing – what does it represent? What secret is in the locked drawer? How is everyone connected? After a convoluted journey, the literal mystery of the desk is solved, but it is not an easy puzzle and ends with more questions than answers.
If you decide to read Great House – just go with the flow – and don’t try to fit all the pieces together – they are meant to create a pattern – not a clear picture. Because, sometimes, the search for the answer is more important than the answer.