The History of Love
By Nicole Krauss
W. W. Norton and Company 2005
From my shelves
Leo Gursky is an elderly man who is incredibly alone. With the exception of his upstairs neighbor Bruno, he is pretty certain no one knows if he is alive or dead. So he purposefully draws attention to himself, dropping his change at the store and showing up to model in the nude for a figure drawing class. Alma Singer is a young girl named for a character in the book The History of Love. She is on a mission to find new love for her widowed mother and perhaps find the connection she is so desperately missing. Their lives will collide in ways that neither Leo nor Alma could have ever imagined.
The characters in this book are incredibly vibrant. We get great contrast in Leo, a lovably grouchy old man, and Alma, a young girl with endless belief in life's possibilities. I really enjoyed spending time with each of them. Leo seems stereotypical, but he has such heart. His life has been long and difficult and he has lost so much. In spite of this he goes through each of his days, content with the small world he inhabits. Conversely, Alma's world is expanding rapidly. She hoards information, learning about paleontology, how to survive in the wild, and how to deal with your first crush. She is awkward but determined, and quickly finds a way into readers' hearts with her records of her life under headings such as "If I had a Russian accent, everything would be different" and "The things I want to say get stuck in my mouth."
Krauss utilizes a very unique style in her books. Alma's story is told through her notebook entries, while Leo narrates the events of his life from the first person. There is also a third, unknown omniscient narrator who fills in some of the gaps of the overarching story. The story can be difficult to follow because the reader is dealing with Alma's life in the present, Leo's life in the present, his memories, and the history related by the unknown narrator. It can be difficult to follow the different threads and ultimately it feels disconnected.
I've read Krauss' Great House and now The History of Love. I found that I enjoyed both of her highly acclaimed novels. They are quiet and lovely and always thought-provoking. I love how Krauss deconstructs the myth of the author. Her tales feature characters who make great sacrifices for their work and show us how a single story can make an incredible impact. In spite of this, I find myself unchanged when I finish her books and the stories quickly fade from memory.
"Quiet and lovely and thought provoking." Yes, that's how I felt about The History of Love, which I loved at the time but honestly don't remember much about now. I don't know if you read a physical book or an ebook, but I read the physical book because it was the dark ages when I read it, and the different story lines have a different decorative element at the beginning of each chapter. Subtle, but it was a good way to make me pay attention at the start of each new chapter.ReplyDelete
Yes, I read it in paperback and I did appreciate the differences. I love when publishing houses and authors pay attention to the book as an object too.Delete
I always enjoy Krauss while I'm reading her, but her books are not the ones I am thinking about a week or a month later.
Oh no! Another reader that didn't enjoy it necessarily. I feel like I'm in the minority in loving this title. I think I can confidently say it's my favorite novel. However, I'll admit the story isn't what captivated me, it was the prose and the emotion it evoked. She managed to make me laugh and cry and relate to those everday moments that I feel but can't quite articulate. Alas, no two readers will always agree! Wish you had enjoyed it more, but understand the frustrations!ReplyDelete
I really loved the characters and I agree that Krauss is a very talented writer. Something about the way she weaves a story from all of these disparate threads just doesn't work for me.Delete
Have you read her debut novel?
I attempted it but never had the time to finish. I also received an ARC of Great House and COULD NOT finish it. It was so slow that I never wanted to go back and pick it up. I was very disappointed!Delete
Isn't it interesting how we can have such different experiences with books by the same author? I'm sorry you were so underwhelmed by her other books.Delete
I have certainly heard of this title and author, but never read any of hers yet. I appreciate when an author includes a main character of an elderly man and fleshes it out to be more than a caricature. We have elderly women sometimes take center stage, but it seems the men are short-changed. Let's face it, we live in a youth-oriented society, and in the book world we not only have young adults reading YA, we have many (most?) of the adult women reading it too. Thanks for sharing this.ReplyDelete
Yes! I am often astounded at how few character types we find in books and on tv. Everyone is in their twenties, white, and beautiful. Sigh...Delete
I read both of her novels awhile ago, but I remember LOVING Great House. History of Love not as much, but Great House definitely...ReplyDelete
I'm glad you loved Great House. I wonder when she will have a new book out...Delete
Nice review, Lindsey. The storytelling technique (through different kinds of narration, different time periods) looks quite interesting. It is interesting that the book is wonderful to read but doesn't stay in our mind after a few days. I want to try reading one of Krauss' novels sometime. Thanks for this beautiful review.ReplyDelete
Nicole Krauss has a very distinct style. I hope you enjoy it when you get to read her books!Delete