I love getting books as gifts -- and this year, I was given The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, as a birthday present. I finished it today.
One of the best books I've ever read.*
I find it so easy to review non-fiction books and so difficult to review novels. And I usually find other people's reviews lacking, as well. Having finished the book, I read the reviews at Amazon.com and shook my head over quite a few of them. Most of the complaints were about finding the book difficult to follow, and I can't address that, because I didn't find it difficult to follow at all. One reader complained that it left unanswered questions at the end. I didn't personally have any unanswered questions at the end, but I don't usually think that's a problem, if the questions are the kind of questions that can't really be answered, anyway.
And if I had read the editorial reviews, I'm not sure I would have ever picked the book up on my own. Technically correct, they don't capture any of the magic of this story. They make it sound so ordinary. And it is not.
So what would I want to be told?
I thought the characters were exceedingly human, flawed but real. I slipped into their skins as I read -- I identified with them, with all of them, even though my life is entirely different from theirs. The pacing is excellent: The story moves and doesn't get stuck in itself. I never got bored, but I had time to think. The book is packed with romance -- not sickeningly sweet romance, but varieties of romance -- both the nostalgic romance of long-lost young love and the romance of young love just beginning, with all the awkward elbows and teeth, and without the nostalgia; the romance of mourning; the romance of mysteries being pieced together. And my favorite: the romance of many people's stories coming together, intertwining with their knowledge, or without. One of the things I loved about the Three Colors trilogy, too.
Do you ever stop and wonder, Is this moment significant? Is this a defining moment? Could I point back at this moment and say, 'That one meant something?'
Maybe you don't. Maybe I'm silly that way. But The History of Love is filled with those moments, blended seamlessly together.
My only complaint? That I can't read the book-within-a-book, also called The History of Love, in reality.
* And I have read a lot of them. On average, I'd guess 1-2 a week since I was 10. I wish I had an exact count, though, because that only works out to 1,144 to 2,288, and I actually own about 1,300 books, most of which I've collected in the past 10 years (and I wonder where my money goes). And even though I haven't read every book I own, I know I've read hundreds of books I don't own. So it must be around 2,000, or maybe more. And of that, I'd say 60 percent would be fiction. So, give or take, I've read 1,200 novels. But do I have any way of proving this claim? Of course not. Unless you sit me down with a list of every book ever published, and then I could check them off. But even that wouldn't be totally accurate, because I might have forgotten one or two or fifty, and besides, that would take way too much time. Which I could spend reading more books.