Characters whose lives are altered by their inability to grasp the whole picture link three of this fall's most highly praised novels – although that's about the only thing they have in common. In one, a young mother goes to extraordinary lengths to protect her son; in another, an English couple go on vacation and find themselves in way over their heads; while in the third, a writer mourns the loss of a desk that has passed through many hands.
Nicole Krauss won a National Book Award nomination for her new novel, Great House, in which a large desk with a mysterious provenance passes through the hands of several writers. “It overshadowed everything like some sort of grotesque, threatening monster, clinging to most of one wall and bullying the other pathetic bits of furniture....”
Nadia, a reclusive novelist in New York, was loaned the desk in the 1970s by a Chilean poet who is tortured and killed during Pinochet's regime. Twenty-some years later, a girl who says she's his daughter comes from Israel to reclaim it. Fans of Krauss's last novel, “A History of Love,” which traced the journey of a book, will recognize both the linking device and the writing totem. In addition to Nadia and her self-absorbed and muffled neuroses, “Great House” also follows an Oxford don who's mourning his wife; a novelist and Holocaust survivor who once possessed the desk; an emotionally abusive father – also a Holocaust survivor – and his estranged son; an antiques dealer with an unusual focus; and an American grad student who is dating the antique dealer's son. The desk – which hops from continent to continent despite its gargantuan size – is an unwieldy wooden McGuffin. Krauss's real subject is loss, the giant wrenching ones that her characters can't seem to escape from underneath. Awards and Krauss's abundant intelligence and talent aside, “Great House” unfortunately gets smaller as it goes along.
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