A couple of hours ago I finished reading the last book for our book-club this year. It surprised me. For a literary novel – a genre which typically doesn’t excite me – it turned out to be enjoyable. Lucky, because the book-club only picked it on a re-count. And given the truculent and debate-hardened members of the book-club, it’s a wonder we managed to get someone to change their vote at all!
Anyway, before I discuss this with anyone else, or check out the publisher’s official book-club website, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts while I can claim that they are still mine.
A tangled history that I loved being caught up in.
This is a book about the intertwined histories of a number of quirky characters, all with Jewish ancestry, around New York, and their relationship to a book called The History of Love. It’s the second novel by Nicole Krauss, and I would not be surprised if she drew upon her own family’s history of Jewish culture and migration. Certainly, those details had the feeling of accuracy throughout the book.
Strangely, one thing didn’t quite ring true for me: the male voice of the character Leo Gursky, who we are introduced to through his narration in the first chapter. I must confess that I like to play a game when reading articles in the newspaper, trying to guess the gender of the author from their style, and usually it’s not too hard. However, finding out that Leo was male was a little unexpected. I assumed he was a Leonore or something. And once I’d identified that the male characterisation didn’t gel for me, I noticed that other male characters weren’t as well realised as the female characters. But it was a minor thing, really, and a little strange.
Something far more impressive was how Krauss maintained the half-a-dozen storylines through the book. To be honest, I was confused for most of the way along about which stories were “real”. And the stop-start manner of my reading this book didn’t help given the concentration required to keep track of what had happened and when. But perseverance paid off, and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying how it was all coming together. Not the sort of book I would’ve normally picked off the shelf to read, but glad that I did.