Great House by Nicole Krauss

I fully expected to be telling you today how much I loved Great House, and how Nicole Krauss lived up to every expectation I had of her.  I wish that is the post I was writing today, but unfortunately my reaction to this novel is significantly more lukewarm than I ever imagined it would be.   There were times when I considered giving up this novel, but something about it kept me reading and I am glad I finished the novel.   Overall, I found it to be uneven, with parts I loved and parts I didn’t.

Great House is structured much like a collection of connected short stories, with several different narrators.  Three of the narrators we return to twice throughout the course of the novel and two are only allowed one section.  I think part of my own failure when it comes to this novel is where my expectations did not meet what I was given.  I was not prepared for the sudden switches in narrator and did not connect with the narrators in the first three sections.  Or, rather, as soon as I did connect with them the story switched.  I was happy to return to most of the narrators in the second part, though of course it was my favorite narrator who we did not see again.

My struggle with this review is that there are truly sections of this novel that I adored, that I want to send out into the world to be loved by other readers.  But at the same time, there are parts that I really didn’t like, that I thought were overwritten and needed editing.  This is a novel that I am so surprised that I didn’t like that I almost feel like there is something wrong with me and not the novel itself.  Surely, since so many people have loved it, I am reading it incorrectly.

So what was my problem with Great House? Why am I having such a hard time pinpointing what I did not like?  I’m even having difficulty explaining what I did like.  Well yes, I found the sections “Lies Told by Children” and the second part of “True Kindness” to be the strongest, but why?  What sets those sections apart from the other ones?

I’m asking a lot of questions here and I’m afraid that I’m not able to provide many answers, which I admit is sketchy writing at best.  Part of me thinks that Great House just isn’t anything new or memorable.  It has been a long time since I read The History of Love, and I have mostly forgotten the details, but it seems like Great House is simply a retelling of that story but instead of a missing manuscript we have a missing desk.  Am I going to remember anything about the plot of Great House in a month?  In a year?  While there were whole pages of this novel that I would like to quote, as a whole it just did not add up for me.

But the one thing that I keep going back to, that I keep trying not to talk about in this review because I’m not sure what to think about it, is the connection I see between Great House and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño.  And maybe it is because I have spent so much time with Bolaño, and maybe it is because Great House at least mentions Chilean poets, that Bolaño and Great House are permanently linked in my mind.  Beyond that, the structures of Great House and 2666 are similar, though where 2666 does not connect the stories in the end Great House does.  Now I have this unending loop in my head that Nicole Krauss is of European Jewish descent and sometimes writes about Chilean dictators and Bolaño is an exiled Chilean poet who sometimes writes about Nazis.  And what does this mean? I don’t know, but I think I like 2666 better.  That’s what this whole paragraph was about.

This is a novel that I think I could potentially have an entirely different opinion of if I read it again.  This was not the right time, which is not to absolve Great House of its flaws.   I wish there had been more consistency.  But I also think that those things would not have bothered me nearly as much any other day.  I think that all of the other pages of success, all of the other quotes that were so beautiful, would have won.  Want some examples?  Boy do I have examples:

But they didn’t come, and so I continued to sit there hour after hour watching the unrelenting rain slosh against the glass, thinking of our life together, Lotte’s and mine, how everything in it was designed to give a sense of permanence, the chair against the wall that as there when we went to sleep and there again when we awoke, the little habits that quoted from the day before and predicted the day to come, though in truth it was all just an illusion, just as solid matter is an illusion, just as our bodies are an illusion, pretending to be one thing when really they are millions upon millions of atoms coming and going, some arriving while others are leaving us forever […] (95)

The only exception was books, which I acquired freely, because I never really felt they belonged to me.  Because of this, I never felt compelled to finish those I didn’t like, or even a pressure to like them at all.  But a certain lack of responsibility also left me free to be affected.  When at last I came across the right book the feeling was violent: it blew open a hole in me that made life more dangerous because I couldn’t control what came through it. (127)

As if to touch, ritually, one last time, every enduring pocket of pain.  No, the powerful emotions of youth don’t mellow with time.  One gets a grip on them, cracks a whip, forces them down.  You build your defenses.  Insist on order.  The strength of feeling doesn’t lessen, it is simply contained. (193)

Because it hardly ends with falling in love.  Just the opposite.  I don’t need to tell you, Your Honor, I sense that you understand true loneliness.  How you fall in love and it’s there that the work begins: day after day, year after year, you must dig yourself up, exhume the contents of your mind and soul for the other to sift through so that you might be known to him, and you, too, must spend days and years wading through all that he excavates for you alone, the archaeology of his being, how exhausting it became, the digging up and the wading through, while my own work, my true work, lay waiting for me.  (208-9)

So, my conclusion?  Just read the damn thing and tell me if you agree with me or if I’m crazy.

Other, less conflicted, reviews: Shelf Love, The Broke and the Bookish, Nomadreader.  (A lot less book bloggers have read this book than I imagined!  Any reviews I missed?)

Exploring American Authors 2010

AMERICAN –əˈmɛrɪkən– adj.
of or pertaining to North or South America;
of the Western hemisphere (

If you’ve been reading Regular Rumination for a while, you might remember a couple of months ago when I said that I had a new feature in the works called “Spotlight”, in which I would theoretically spotlight Latin American authors.  Well, obviously, that never came to be and I’ll tell you why: because I chickened out.  I really didn’t feel like I had any authority, outside of some class notes, to really do any of these authors justice.  You might also know that I am going to begin writing my thesis in the fall.  I have decided on the novel 2666, which I read with a great group of readers back in the spring.  I don’t feel like my knowledge of the books that have influenced Bolaño and American literature in general is sufficient to really write that thesis yet, so I have a few months to educate myself.

That’s where Exploring American Authors comes in.  Every month for the rest of 2010, I am going to be reading the books of one author from the Americas, with a focus on authors who either speak Spanish or are of Mexican, Central or South American descent.  I have a tentative list through June, but if you have any suggestions, please let me know!  Here are my selections so far:

March: Octavio Paz
April: Roberto Bolaño
May: Julia Alvarez
June: Carlos Fuentes

My goal, right now when I’m bright-eyed and eager, is to read one book a week from the author I have chosen for the month.  Some of the books I will be reading in Spanish, some in English, depending on what is available at my library.  I’m beginning this week with The Labyrinth of Solitude by Ocatvio Paz.  It is a collection of essays about Mexican culture and I have talked in length about one of the essays, The Sons of Malinche, here during my discussion of one of the sections of 2666.  I will be revisiting 2666 and other works by Roberto Bolaño in April for class, so I will chronicle that here as well.

What does this mean for you?  Well, you can sit back and relax and learn along with me, because I will be posting about each book I read.  Or… you can participate!  I would categorize this as a readalong, rather than a challenge, because there’s no set number of books you have to read, just a focus we will have every month.  You don’t need to read 4 books, you could read more or less if you like.  The goal of this is to become acquainted with these authors.  So suggest authors!  I am open to all sorts of suggestions, as long as the author of the book meets two qualifications: 1) They live or were born in the Americas. 2) They either speak/write in Spanish or are of Spanish-speaking descent.  (Though that’s tentative as well. I’m very open to reading Brazilian authors!)

Comments and suggestions and questions about this project are greatly appreciated and I’m looking forward to reading these authors!

Looking Back at 2009

2009 is on its way out and 2010 is about to usher itself into the world.  Things changed a lot in 2009, in the world and in my life and I know that the coming months and 2010 are only going to bring more changes.  One of the  biggest changes in my life was Regular Rumination and my introduction to the book blogging community was on December 28th, 2008, a date that is approaching quickly and I can hardly believe it.  It has been wonderfully enriching to get to know all of you by talking about books and I’m looking forward to another wonderful year!

It’s too early still to put up my favorite books, but there are a few that I know will already make my list.  The Things They Carried was the first novel I read in 2009 and I really can’t think of a better way to start off the year.  It’s not only the best book I’ve read this year, but one of the best books I’ve ever read.  To round off the year, in September I got to meet Mr. O’Brien and see him speak.  It was an incredibly moving experience and one I’m not likely to forget any time soon.

Book blogging brought Young Adult fiction back into my life and like reacquainted best friends who stay up all night catching up, I read a ton of it.  Some of my favorite finds were Scott Westerfeld, John Green, Patrick Ness, Justine Larbalestier, Suzanne Collins, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Olive Kitteridge was a beautiful novel that not only won the Pulitzer but completely won me over, too.  Like The Things They Carried, it has staying power, at least on my top ten list.  2666 might have changed the way I read and my focus of study for my master’s.  The Grapes of Wrath and Something Wicked This Way Comes are two classics I read this year that lived up to their praise and also changed me as a reader.  Even though City of Thieves isn’t perfect, it ended up being one of my funniest reads of the year that still has me chuckling when I just think about some of the jokes included.

Graphic novels were big for me, especially graphic memoirs and non-fiction like Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco and Stitches by David Small.  I made the commitment in 2009 to read more books by women and people of many different colors and nationalities; through that goal, I discovered two new favorite authors that I can’t wait to explore more: Tayari Jones and Octavia Butler.  I hope to make this an even bigger priority in 2010, with authors from around the globe.   Poetry made a comeback in my life and will only continue to become a bigger focus for next year.  I ditched all my challenges a couple months ago, but don’t worry, I’m making up for it in 2010.

Keep an eye out on my blog for a post that looks ahead to 2010 and as we get closer to the New Year, a final year end list that will be nearly impossible to put together.  Thanks everyone for making 2009 spectacular!

Poetry Wednesday – Roberto Bolaño



(© cccb/kosmopolis)

After finishing 2666, there was a void in my life.  I miss the delightful confusion, the magnificent prose, and all the references I do not get.  It is clear that there needs to be more Bolaño in my life, so I went searching for some of his poetry.  It’s difficult to find and this poem Godzilla en México is the only poem I could find.


Atiende esto, hijo mío: las bombas caían
sobre la ciudad de México
pero nadie se daba cuenta.
El aire llevó el veneno a través
de las calles y las ventanas abiertas.
Tú acababas de comer y veías en la tele
los dibujos animados.
Yo leía en la habitación de al lado
cuando supe que íbamos a morir.
Pese al mareo y las náuseas me arrastré
hasta el comedor y te encontré en el suelo.
Nos abrazamos. Me preguntaste qué pasaba
y yo no dije que estábamos en el programa de la muerte
sino que íbamos a iniciar un viaje,
uno más, juntos, y que no tuvieras miedo.
Al marcharse, la muerte ni siquiera
nos cerró los ojos.
¿Qué somos?, me preguntaste una semana o un año después,
¿hormigas, abejas, cifras equivocadas
en la gran sopa podrida del azar?
Somos seres humanos, hijo mío, casi pájaros,
Héroes públicos y secretos.



Listen carefully, my son: bombs were falling
over Mexico City
but no one even noticed.
The air carried poison through
the streets and open windows.
You’d just finished eating and were watching
cartoons on TV.
I was reading in the bedroom next door
when I realized we were going to die.
Despite the dizziness and nausea I dragged myself
to the kitchen and found you on the floor.
We hugged. You asked what was happening
and I didn’t tell you we were on death’s program
but instead that we were going on a journey,
one more, together, and that you shouldn’t be afraid.
When it left, death didn’t even
close our eyes.
What are we? you asked a week or year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We’re human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.

It’s been compared to “The Road,” a strange post-apocalyptic poem that is deceptively simple.  It begins as simple narrative, but the last five lines really got to me.  I love the line, especially “We’re human beings, my son, almost birds,” it’s just beautiful.

What do you think fellow 2666 readers?  Does this fill that void at all?  If you haven’t read Bolaño before, are you intrigued by this poem?