Thursday, April 28, 2011
What makes Nicole Krauss great and what would make her better?
Does Nicole Krauss bring it off? Yes, kinda - she does complete the magic trick, catch the eight or so balls she's been juggling, and bring her novel "Great House" to a conclusion that more or less answers all of the enigmas of the complex plot. It's a strange kind of narrative, almost unique - mysterious, but not exactly a mystery. In a mystery, everything is resolved - to the satisfaction of the characters. In Krauss's novel, everything is resolved - to the satisfaction of the reader, but not the characters. We know what strands tie all these plot elements together but the characters do not; we're given special knowledge. I have to say the plot is still very hard to discern, hard to maintain in your mind at the same time - I'd probably need to sketch out on paper who the characters are, how they're related or not, who owns or owned at various times the writer's desk that works as the Maguffen, an object that drives the novel forward. At the end it does become clear that the novel itself is the Great House, an imagined space in which characters can wander and even get lost or disappear. This might be a good book-group read, as it leaves much to discuss, unpack, and debate. I liked much of it - especially the two "Your Honor" sections - I think Krauss is great at capturing the lonely, sometimes selfish, life of a writer, a mixture of bravura and self-doubt. Other sections hinge too much on coincidence and melodrama. I must be in a minority here, but I wish Krauss would try to write a straightforward novel in traditional third person - I know it's the baroque and capacious nature of her narrative that her many fans admire, but I wonder if all the architectural claptrap is a device, a defense, keeping her from opening up and facing her greatest material head-on.