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Great House - Book of the Month

by Nicole Krauss

GREAT HOUSE opens with the confession of a writer to a judge. From the outset, Nadia punctuates her story with an ominous address to ‘Your Honor’ as her mind drifts back to the time when she inherited all of Daniel Varsky’s furniture, including a monstrous, magnificent desk with nineteen drawers, one of which remains stubbornly locked. When Nadia receives a phone call requesting the return of the desk, her life is derailed.

Like the desk, GREAT HOUSE is passed through the hands of a series of difficult owners and each furnishes their narrative with the space that the desk filled in their life. The novel is a study of writing itself – every section bears a protagonist who writes or hoped to and the entire work is gaping with the loss of the poet who was kidnapped, tortured and killed for his craft.

The desk eases the burden of memory for those who sit at its helm. For those who do not write, the onlookers of the novel, the writing table is a horrifying wedge that stands between human relationships, inciting fear and jealousy. It dominates whichever room it inhabits and becomes a ‘trojan horse’, a ‘marriage bed’, a ‘bier’ and above all an inheritance that can outlive generations of owners.

Throughout the novel, Krauss meditates on the life of objects, and GREAT HOUSE is scattered with eerily animate furnishings. Nadia describes a shrieking house that must be shut up and Mr. Weisz fills his homes with tables, wardrobes, chairs and beds, pillaged during the Second World War and now reclaimed by this eccentric and enigmatic antiques dealer. Weisz speculates that the association between humans and their objects is strong enough to become intermingled, and sympathises with an urge to possess the object whose owner, long gone, cannot be retrieved. He aims to revisit transplanted rooms and, after years of searching, to commemorate people via ‘those objects that had no power of memory themselves’. Like her roaming protagonist then, Krauss follows one piece of furniture around the world and builds a GREAT HOUSE from the traces its diaspora of owners leave behind.

This is a perfect novel for book groups who are keen to discuss the significance of a collective story, and how one object can unite a group of otherwise disconnected people across time and space.

Eve Lacey

Published by Viking, 304pp.

Read our interview with Nicole Krauss.

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