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Utterly forgettable memories
on 4 March 2013
I like clever people, if I ever meet Nicole Krauss at a sophisticated gathering - say, in McDonalds - I will ask her opinions on the meaning of life, life after death and more importantly, life before death. Sadly, after the remarkable triumph of her brilliant "The History of Love", "Great House" is an absolute disaster, not life affirming, stimulating or enlightening - merely dark, morbid and fatuous!
Whether it is cerebral, unashamedly literary or as clever as some reviewers on its' inside cover and here imply, it falls at the first hurdle for me by failing to galvanise, inspire or even interest the reader. Why do so many newspaper reviewers think so highly of it? Are they are too embarrassed to say they can't find its' true meaning, the reason being, it has none.
Four individual stories, the sad depiction of Mrs Bender's Alzehimer's and intermittent meandering through the consciousness of characters mainly mundane lives, do not add up to a lot. I was waiting, at the end, for a big revelation, THE big revelation. Sadly the conclusion was as ephemeral as the novel.
It is true, memory - often a recollection of recollections - can be opaque, like Chinese whispers it can end, like Weisz's fake antiques, not quite the product his clientele remembered from their past, but close enough not to matter. That was the problem with this book, it didn't matter.
The process of good writing should allow the reader to absorb inner truth, even when there is some doubt as to what that is and where it comes from; when characters inter-relate, their behaviour shows us how they are. There was so little social contact here, the judgment we must sadly offer, Your Honour, is that the characters were wooden, the drawers full of blank paper and the ink well of life spilt, smudging what was a good concept.
Even with Mr Bender's sad discovery of his wife's secret, we fail to find what makes him tick. His wife may have provided sexual gratification, but was not, exactly, a laugh a minute - and what sort of woman leaves a half-read book splayed wide open on the arm of a chair, other than a Philistine. I was with him when he did the most assertive thing in the book, placing a bookmark inside, saving the spine of the book until his wife told him never to do it again. One doesn't dare to think what might have happened had he left the seat of the lavatory up. Or maybe we should, there might have been some interesting drama!
The idea in Judaism of written consciousness - as in the Torah - or remembered, passed-down insights without physical embellishment, is neatly captured. But we didn't need to endure Isabel's angst, Yoav and his sister, Leah's, strange relationship or Dov's failure to relate to his father. Nor did we need to drag up the terrible tragedy in Chile under General Pinochet, that was real, I met victims seeking asylum at the time. No, such truths as there are in this novel could have been neatly encapsulated in a short story, a very short story, which could, and perhaps should, have remained in the locked drawer of that damned desk.