Forest Dark, by Nicole Krauss (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Nicole Krauss’ forthcoming novel is an odd one. It tells two stories that are clearly linked, and yet at the same time the characters may as well be living in different realities. On the one hand there is Jules Epstein, an old man who’s retired, recently divorced, and just lost his parents. He appears to be suffering an existential crisis, although reading this novel I felt it may well have been a degenerative disease because of references to memory loss. On the other, there’s Nicole, a novelist with writer’s block and also suffering a crisis of sorts. Both characters, although they are unrelated, are drawn towards Israel, and in particular the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv.
The book starts out with a witty and engaging mystery as Epstein goes missing. The second chapter is jarring as it brings us straight into Nicole’s story without warning, and for a while it seems that Nicole may be Epstein’s daughter. For the longest time, we are left wondering when their paths will cross, but this never happens. They are only linked by this attraction to the Hilton, and by certain philosophical ideas about infinity.
On a sentence level, this is a hell of a book. Krauss writes beautifully and brings up seriously deep ideas. However, structurally, it is quite off-putting. Nicole’s sections (the book flips from one to the other) are sort of stream-of-consciousness and include a lot of philosophizing and digressing. Just when you think something is about to happen, you get page upon page of ideas and memories and nothing much does happen. There is a plot about Kafka, and a whole lot of talk about Jewish lore and how nothing can become something, and at times it is wonderful to read, but a lot the time it is a bit tedious.