The History of Love is about loneliness. An old man called Leo Gursky lives alone and spends his days deliberately creating chaos in shops and cafes so someone, anyone will remember him if he dies. Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is desperately trying to cure the loneliness of her mother, who has lived in a fantasy world ever since her father died. Alongside these two main characters resides a cast of secondary characters; Alma's brother Bird, who thinks he is the Jewish Messiah, Leo's childhood sweetheart, Alma's friend Misha. All are tied together in very clever ways by a manuscript Leo wrote before the Holocaust called The History Of Love.
I so wanted to love this book. When I mentioned that I had owned it for ages but not yet read it, lots of bloggers told me to read it as they had loved it themselves. And I did like it, I just didn't love it.
There was lots to like. Krauss experiments a lot with writing structure and different narrative devices (especially the use of short sentences to convey emotion) and in general, it works. Her writing feels fresh and exciting and she manages to make each of her characters distinct, despite writing from multiple perspectives. The characters themselves are original and a bit quirky, different from anything I have read before. Some of the writing is just beautiful;
"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. When they were ten he asked her to marry him. Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised he would never love another girl as long as he lived. What if I die? she asked. Even then, he said."
But despite all of this, I just didn't love The History of Love. I thought it was interesting and clever and well written but I didn't connect to any of the characters apart from Leo. Leo was the only one I felt for and rooted for and because of this, some of the other sections dragged. I know that I was supposed to be guessing and working out the connections between the characters as I progressed through the book, but I didn't want to as I didn't connect enough with the book. Some of the characters and styles were so quirky that it felt as though Krauss were being deliberately 'different' and 'literary' and that's always a turn off for me.
But don't take just my opinion on this. Plenty of other people have read and loved this book a lot more than I did.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2005
Score: 3 out of 5