Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Book Review: 'The History of Love' by Nicole Krauss

“Once upon a time there 
was a boy who loved a girl, 
and her laughter was a question 
he wanted to spend his whole 
life answering.

Warning: this was a five star read for me. I loved it. 

What was it about? 

Love. This is by all accounts a love story, but unlike any I've ever read before. It's about romantic love, familial love, the loss of love, love of a nation, love of a race. It encompasses so much and yet is so short. It's a simmering fire of emotion packed into 250 pages of adept writing.  

It follows the parallel narratives of Leo Gursky and Alma Singer, both living in New York City, exploring the love that they have in their lives. Both protagonists are related in some way to the titular novel, The History of Love, which is also a book in the story. Events unfold and both characters are forced to confront love. 

What I liked:

It was so god damn clever. So clever. It was a book within a book within a tale within a life (did that make sense to you? Me neither). I won't spoil it, but as the narrative unfolds there were many points when I said a long 'oh' to myself in realisation. It's very clever, very subtle, sometimes very confusing. But I loved it. 

Krauss did well at assimilating the voice of both the old and young. Leo Gursky (80 odd) was funny and witty and frank, and Alma Singer (14, about to turn 15) was a perfectly portrayed curious, unsure teenager. 

I liked how frank the book was about old age, from bowel problems to shrivelling bodies. It was slightly disgusting and very realistic. Leo came to life as a real man, not a caricature of what an old, melancholy man might be. There was a great balance of the emotional and the raw reality of life; not everything in this book seemed like a perfectly written, poetic dream. 

What I disliked:

Sometimes the switching between narrators bothered me. I'd be loving one particular voice and then it would be taken away. But this didn't bother me enough to reduce my rating; if anything, it made me take much more notice of the story and how Krauss had weaved the plot together. 

Nicole Krauss was married to Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I dislike how Foer-esque this novel was. The repeated mentioning of The Street of Crocodiles. The narratives separated by headlines and numbered bullet points.  The narrative was dominated by a quest. This playfulness, which would come off as original if I hadn't read Foer's work, seemed a little... stolen? This was compounded by the fact that the book is dedicated to Jonathan. However overall I felt it was more successful at portraying it's main theme (love, the loss of it, and it's survival) than any of Foer's works. 

Also, Krauss and Foer have since broken up. This gives me little hope for love. If the writer who wrote such a book couldn't make it work, who can? 

Would I recommend? 

Yes. 100%. It's my favourite read for a while. As I got this out of my local library, I might even buy a copy. 

Find it on Goodreads here. 

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