I loved the beginning of the book. An accomplished writer in New York recounts her acquisition of the desk back in the early 1970s when she borrows some furniture from a young Chilean poet named Daniel Varsky. But Varsky never returns to claim his desk. He’s arrested and killed by Pinochet’s police.
Sounds intriguing, no? Great House began as a short story Krauss wrote several years ago in Harper’s called From the Desk of Daniel Varsky.
In her novel, Krauss traces the history of the desk back to a Hungarian Jew named Weisz who perishes in the Holocaust. Weisz’s son sets out on a mission to recover all the furniture from his father’s study, no matter where the pieces end up. He travels the world–throughout Europe, the US, and Israel.
There are a couple other narrators who also have a connection to the desk. But many of the subplots fizzle out before they are fully mixed into the story.
Like the Daniel Varsky story.
He’s a peripheral character although the way Krauss begins her novel, you’d think he’d be a central figure. And I wish he were. I thought Great House would be more like The Dancer Upstairs (Anchor, 2002) or even more focused like her previous work, The History of Love (Norton, 2005).
In any case, Great House was an entertaining book, especially at the very beginning and at the very end. If you’ve read it and have some insight, I’d love to hear it!