Nicole Krauss’s new novel opens with the disappearance of Jules Epstein. A wealthy, retired New York lawyer, he has vanished in Tel Aviv. What’s more concerning is that he seems to have been vanishing for a while. His apartment in Tel Aviv is humble and crumbling; he has been gradually giving his accumulated wealth away. His children realise they have only been seeing him at the Tel Aviv Hilton. In a dual narrative, our second protagonist, a writer from Brooklyn, is experiencing an out-of-body episode. She starts to think that most of her life may have been an out-of-body episode. That instead of living her life, she has in fact been dreaming it: from the Tel Aviv Hilton.
This is a story of two disappearances, two lands (America and Israel), the competition of memory and history and two possible artistic works. In dreamlike, philosophical prose, Krauss pulls us along with her dual protagonists from New York to Israel; from the modern Tel Aviv to the ancient, storied landscape surrounding it. In a narrative that keeps trying to slip away, Krauss firmly tethers us to the transformation taking place in both protagonists. With inserted photographs of the Tel Aviv Hilton, Krauss pulls us back as the writer from Brooklyn becomes increasingly unfettered and dreamlike in her musings. As Kafka enters the story, we are given a photograph of the apartment that may hold all his unpublished work.
The questions Krauss asks are big. What is a life lived? What is the difference between history and memory? What is reality? Her prose is erudite and ephemeral, but she knows to give us something to hold onto, whether it is a photo of the Tel Aviv Hilton or the description of a possibly low-budget film of King David. Forest Dark is an unexpectedly funny book, grounded at every turn by moments of humour and small human interactions.
Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.
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