Star rating – 4/10
This is a book that has received rave reviews, and which has already been nominated for numerous awards, but I have to say that it just isn’t the book for me. The style is very intelligent, academic even. And the idea should be a winner – four separate stories interwoven around the theme of an old writing desk with its numerous drawers, one of which is mysteriously locked, that figures in the lives of the different characters.
Nicole Krauss is something of a literary world darling at the moment, but for me the booked jarred, as it seems to be trying to be a bit too clever. I am all for books that make the reader work hard for their pleasure, and probably my displeasure is a reflection of the sort of book I wanted to read at this particular time, but hard labour and relaxation don’t make perfect bedfellows for me.
I did like the first story, of a brief romantic encounter between an English novelist, and a Chilean poet, who then disappears, presumed to have been murdered by Pinochet’s brutal regime. The next stories I found much harder to engage with, of an elderly Israeli lawyer; an American student at Oxford; and another elderly man who has just lost his wife.
Krauss writes some great prose in parts of the book, but it feels too much like some short stories, of which I am not an especial fan, pieced together by the mechanism of the desk. It’s a shame as I wanted to love this book. I obviously didn’t, but it takes all sorts and all tastes and it seems that enough people will disagree with me to make it a success.