Published: September 2017 by Harper Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
First of all, I want to say thank you to Harper Books for sending me an advanced digital copy of this book for review. The moment I found out that Nicole Krauss had written another novel, I had to have it, and the wonderful people over at Harper indulged me and sent me a digital ARC. I am not usually a fan of reading e-books, but for this novel I was more than happy to make an exception.
Nicole Krauss is the author of The History of Love and Great House, two books I absolutely loved. Forest Dark, which is set to release September 12th 2017, comes seven years after her last novel was released. It was different than her other work, but it once again showcases Krauss’s incredible talent as a writer.
The novel follows two distinct story-lines, each different in their focus and in their composition. The first one is told in third person, focusing on an aging man named Jules Epstein, who, recently divorced from his wife and mourning the loss of both of his parents, sells most of his belongings and travels to Tel Aviv, where he hopes to find some way to honor his parents. The second storyline is told in first person, from the perspective of a writer (also named Nicole, which suggests some autobiographical connections). The writer has had success with her work in the past but lately has been struggling to write at all. With her own marriage failing and her work at a standstill, she also travels to Tel Aviv in hopes of some kind of breakthrough.
The story started out a bit slow for me. The different narratives are (understandably) disjointed and it took me some time to settle in to this format. This book doesn’t have that compulsively readable quality to it, but I did find that I gained a lot of momentum and it became more and more interesting as I got into the second half. I found myself swept up in the writing the further into it I got.
I will caution you, this book is not an “easy read.” It is highly literary fiction, and while I was caught up in it and ending up loving it, it likely won’t be for everyone. I admit that I don’t know an awful lot about Jewish history and culture, and so I had to do a fair amount of research to keep up with everything and understand its significance. I also did research into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to keep things in perspective. In addition, I wish I had had a greater knowledge of Kafka going into this book. I have read The Metamorphosis, but knew little else, either about his life or his work. I’ll definitely be needing to do some more research on that subject after reading this one, and then perhaps a reread of Forest Dark will be in order. There is a lot going on within these pages, and I think you’ll get a lot more out of it if you take the time to do a little extra reading to supplement it.
There was a part of me as a reader that wanted something different from this novel. But as someone who also understands the importance of literary fiction as more than just a “fun read,” I’m hesitant to dwell on these things. This book was gorgeous and complicated, but did find myself wanting connections. A reward. Throughout the book I desperately wanted more overlap from out two different story-lines. I waited for it and waiting for it to happen. And yet the novel resisted, and I am fully aware that this was a deliberate choice. I can both understand that and wish for more. The ending felt abrupt for me as well… I am fine with loose ends and unanswered questions, but when it was over I felt a little bit shocked to have reached the end. The more I think back on it, the more satisfied I find myself, but at the time I really wanted there to be more.
I think at its heart it is a book about writing. The first person narrator is an author and we dip into her mind and thoughts often, where she struggles to try and contemplate both the multi-verse and her place in this universe as a (Jewish) writer. It’s interesting, because the writer spends so much of her time not writing. Still, I think Krauss, as she has with her past work as well, is writing a book about writing, and about what it means to be a writer.
I’ve had trouble piecing together my thoughts after finishing this book. It is a brilliant novel, well-written, multi-layered, and beautiful. It’s also somewhat unconventional and complicated, and is one I’m going to have to revisit—preferably once I have a physical copy and can hold the book in my hands (that’s just a much better reading experience for me). There is just so much beneath the surface of this novel and I know there are things that I missed on this first read. I highlighted passages, made notes, saved paragraphs, and I know a reread would only bring to light more of what’s lurking in these pages.