Monday, February 19, 2007

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Let me say first, that I really really enjoyed and appreciated this novel. It's lyric, it's insightful, it's fun, it's even, dare I say, deep. But if I was distracted by the Dave Eggers' ventriloquism of What is the What, I was doubly distracted by the fact that Nicole Krauss has written a really great Jonathan Safran Foer novel. She's written a Jonathan Safran Foer novel better than the last Jonathan Safran Foer novel which was actually written by Jonathan Safran Foer. She has written a Jonathan Safran Foer novel so good it makes me want to write a Jonathan Safran Foer novel. Which leads me to wonder... why does that matter? Why would that make her achievement any less?

Now Krauss, who happens to be married to Foer, says they don't read each other's work until it's in page proofs. And she says of the much remarked upon links between their two novels that "people see what they want to see." But it's not the structural and thematic similarities that have been mentioned the most that really struck me--it's that the sound and rhythm of her voice is his. Her sentences sound like his sentences. Which, let's face it, tends to happen in a marriage. It's a frequent joke that couples start to look alike, but it's much more real that they adopt each other's speech patterns. Which makes me wonder if she just can't see what's happened. But in fact her novel is in part about the appropriation of other people's stories, and publishing someone else's novel under your own name, which seems to be a coincidence too far. Now I'm not suggesting he wrote her novel, and if they say they don't read each other's work, I believe them. But what a shocker it must have been once they did compare. Especially if they don't talk about each other's work. BUT... I keep coming back to, why does it matter? Her novel is great. His novel is partially great. The novels they wrote before they knew each other are great (though this is where it becomes clear that she took on his voice rather than vice- versa). It makes me wonder why as a culture we're so attached to authorship. Why shouldn't two authors use the same voice--if the books were published anonymously we wouldn't know who wrote what and would just judge by the text. And yet... we don't publish books anonymously and I wouldn't want us to. I want to group books by author, to compare one of an author's books with another, and I want to compare authors. Actually if they weren't married it would seem like a crazy violation for her to write in his voice, but because they are, somehow it seems kind of sweet. Like it's the perfect union. Which makes me wonder why on earth with two great novelists at home addressing the same themes they wouldn't swap work before proofs? But therein lies the gossipy, curiousity side of reading and not the valuable side...

1 comment:

Debbie said...

I just finished reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close after having read The History of Love a few weeks ago -- I loved Krauss's book and was sort of shocked by the similarities between the two -- even though I knew to expect it going in. Still, it's just as you say -- it's not just the themes and the characters but the voice, that are all so similar. It did bother me. I like what you say about "Why should it matter" but on some level, it diminished her work a bit in my mind; even though I liked her novel better. I found your blog by googling comparisons of the two authors because I wanted to to see if anyone else felt this way -- I thought your post was really thoughtful -- thanks.