This is a distinctly Jewish story, almost Talmudic in its interpretative layering. People tell stories about themselves, and these stories are shaped not by their voices or characters but by unique self-understandings. Each story is essentially a puzzling out of an experience of loss … Each of these stories shares the unmistakable quality of confession. This is an odd word choice, given the Jewishness of this book—the austere yet overwrought language, the pride and self-abnegation, the way objects are metaphors and actions are parables. But these are not private confessions between a sinner and her pastor, where redemption is the goal. These are stories of people—meant to be heard, understood, and, most critically, never forgotten. So this is Krauss’s take on the Jewish confessional mode.
The characters of Great House lack all trace of exuberance. Normal life does not beckon them. They inhabit their sorrow with a lover’s ardor, cultivating it into an art form. There is a forbidding, and seductive, remoteness about them that captures those who draw too close and then can get no closer … What gives the quickening of life to this elegiac novel and takes the place of the unlikely laughter of The History of Love? The feat is achieved through exquisitely chosen sensory details that reverberate with emotional intensity...Krauss has taken great risks in dispensing with the whimsy and humor that she summoned for her tragic vision in The History of Love. Here she gives us her tragic vision pure. It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall.
Great House is an exercise in kaleidoscopic storytelling, a novel that seeks to weave four groups of characters into a larger meditation on memory and loss … There's a lot to be said for using a piece of furniture to evoke the inner life of not just characters but also families — not least because it allows the novel to exist, a bit, outside of time. ‘Unlike people,’ Krauss writes, ‘… the inanimate doesn't simply disappear,’ and as Great House progresses, she establishes the desk as a trace or imago, an echo of the past that reverberates into the present day .. The ease with which it moves among them only undermines its metaphoric power, reminding us that, whatever it may stir in us, the inanimate remains inanimate, which means, on the most fundamental level, that it can never be enough.