Wood not buying The History of Love

In a review entitled “Tides of Treacle” (not available to nonsubscribers online), James Wood concludes that Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love is “a novel that is not a grown-up book for grown-up readers.”

See, Krauss’ Jewish protagonist is not really Jewish, according to the evangelical Christian-raised Wood. Instead, he “is a literary idea of Jewish. He is the pampered notion, the precious dream, of his overdetermined literary parentage.” (On a related note, see last month’s debate at Tingle Alley, summarized and discussed here and here.)

Wood acknowledges that the book “has much to say about an almost religious faith in texts; about distinctions between, and blurrings of, fiction and fact; about the extinction of the past and the transmission of culture in a Holocaust-haunted world; and about the persistence of love.” But he says:

these important questions are soiled by the book’s inability to be primarily truthful about human conduct and motive, about life. The many turnings of the plot, which Krauss handles very well, are only sectaries scurrying around without a church, since the centre of the book — its rendition of life, its ability to make one believe in it — is empty. Krauss wants the human pay-offs of her postmodern games — feeling, tenderness, sympathy — without having first written her cheque to the real.

At The Elegant Variation, Mark Sarvas excerpts sections of the review, disagrees with Wood, and seeks your comments. (For what it’s worth, this shiksa blogger was charmed by Krauss’ book.)


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