on January 27, 2012
One of the most extraordinary novels I have ever read. So much complexity so deftly handled. Reads a little like a nineteenth century novel. It is not for impatient readers who need so many jolts per page to compel them to keep reading. It is destined to become an American classic. Such a vivid sophisticated portrait with an amazing depth of field of so much of contemporary American society. And what a story! And what stories within that story. I am reminded of the lines written by the Irish poet, John O'Donohue: "I would love to live like a river flows, carried buy the surprise of its own unfolding." As such this book unfolds to its very last sentence.
This is a story about family - about the presence and absence of relationships (both functional and dysfunctional) - set in modern America, and told from a number of different perspectives. The novel opens with an historic view of the Berglund family seen from the perspective of their neighbours in St Paul, Minnesota. The Berglunds (husband Walter, wife Patty, and children Jessica and Joey), are a liberal middle-class family who were part of the gentrification of urban St Paul. Patty was a homemaker, and an ideal neighbour, Walter was an environmentally conscious lawyer. On the face of it, an ideal family but a closer look at the Berglund's lives reveals that all is not as it seems. Patty's much loved son Joey becomes involved with a neighbour's daughter, Connie, and moves in with Connie and her mother. Why has this happened? Who are the Berglunds, really, and where do they come from and what do they stand for? What are they seeking? Why do the family relocate to Washington DC, and leave the home that they have worked on for years?
`Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.'
The next part of the story is an unpublished autobiography composed by Patty Berglund at the suggestion of her therapist. In this, we learn of Patty's youth as a star basketball player and of events in her past. Of how she meets an attractive musician named Richard Katz, and his room-mate Walter Berglund, and of the events that follow in her life.
The novel then moves to New York in 2004 and is seen through the rotating third-person perspectives of Richard, Joey and Walter. Their overlapping narratives take us through much of the novel, until an addendum to Patty's autobiography brings us to 2010 and almost to the end of the story.
The structure of the novel works well to convey the themes of the novel, but summarising the story in more detail would diminish the impact of reading it. An element of surprise is needed in order to appreciate the story as it unfolds. Experiencing some of the same scenes form different perspectives enables us to see varying levels of significance, especially where one character's story is interrupted at a critical point, and another character's story begins.
And the characters? While the major characters are well-defined and generally consistent with the stereotypes they represent (I especially enjoyed Joey) I found Patty, frustrating and not particularly likeable or interesting. And because so much of the book is about Patty, this impacted on my overall enjoyment.
I admired the writing in this novel. I appreciated the focus on both the way in which the nature of American society is evolving, as well as the way in which changing (self-perpetuating but frequently circular) relationships in families define relative constructs of freedom. But the major theme is about freedom: how do we define it, and how will we recognise it? Is it tangible or intangible; relative or absolute; singular or collective? What is freedom, if we don't (or can't) use it? What is the purpose of being free if we can't enjoy it?
It's possible to just read and enjoy this book, but there's plenty of food for further thought for those so inclined.
on May 12, 2011
I cannot beleive all those people who thought this book was boring and uninteresting! I thought it was brilliant, gripping and couldn't put it down. I had previously enjoyed The Corrections very much too. Jonanathan Franzen is a brilliant writer and what I admired most here was his emphasis on contemprary themes, all the while interspersing them with a great story and interesting characters. Of course the characters have flaws but what good would a novel be with only perfect people in it?
Probably, when future generations of literature students are studying this book in university, they'll endlessly discuss the socio-historic context as much as students in past times have studied the world of Dickens, George Eliot or Emile Zola. I am aware that many readers will jump out of their skins at my comparing Franzen to those authors but anyway, read it and see!
on December 19, 2012
Excellent roman d'un auteur américain que je ne connaissais pas. La description des dynamiques qui unissent les individus en interaction ne laisse personne indifférent: bien au contraire, il y a un côté réaliste qu'on peut tout à fait supporter grâce au style d'écriture de l'auteur et de son humour caustique.
on January 16, 2011
What an unsympathetic, unlikeable cast of characters. Given the buzz about this book, I stuck with it even though I was tempted to bail midway, particularly when the book gets heavy into an environmental theme. Just didn't like the characters and found the plot plodded. Typically, I burn through books; this one took me weeks to finish. Now that I've finished it, I feel I've got my freedom back to read something I'll actually enjoy.
"Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved." -- Matthew 24:11-13 (NKJV)
Freedom is the best new work of fiction I've read so far in 2010.
Freedom looks at the pain, responsibility, and potential involved in doing what appeals to you . . . regardless of the cost to anyone else. It's a worthwhile trip that manages to touch on a wide variety of ways that freedom pulls us in some directions and away from others. There's plenty of food for thought here, parceled out in bite-sized nuggets that you can chew on for weeks to come.
I was particularly impressed by the story's narrative structure. As the book opens, you see the Berglund family from the outside-in, the neighbors' view. Very quickly, one set of patterns are disrupted into a totally unexpected direction, drawing you irresistibly into wanting to know what happened.
In part the answer is that no one who isn't in a family really knows what goes on in a family. In another part, it's that people keep secrets from one another . . . particularly what they see as their own dark sides that they don't want others to know about.
From there, the story richly expands into four narratives, by narrators whose connections to others are rich and hard to grasp . . . even for themselves. It's only by overlaying the narratives that the whole picture begins to emerge. At times, you'll want to shake one character or another into doing something different, but of course you cannot do that with a fictional character any more easily than you can with most real persons.
Jonathan Franzen is a well-read author and a talented writer so his narrations dig deep into a variety of literary sources and methods to establish mood, color, imagery, emotion, psychology, physical sensations, and experiences that you'll find seem more than vaguely familiar . . . even when you cannot exactly place them. It's all subtly and humorously done, by an author who loves people and wants the best for them. There's a warm heart underneath all the Sturm und Drang that is what ultimately sets the book apart.
I was pleased to see that the book takes seriously such important subjects as marital love, friendship, sexual attraction, depression, sibling rivalries, parental mistakes, social responsibility, and serving one's fellow human. Rather than treating each topic as a single point of light, Mr. Franzen steps back to give you a globe's eye view from both without and from within. It's at once both terrifically subjective and wonderfully objective.
Be careful that you don't read any reviews that get into much of the story. You need to be surprised in places for this book to work its full magic on you.
Bravo, Mr. Franzen!
An international bestseller and the novel of the year, `Freedom' is an epic of contemporary love and marriage.
This is the story of the Berglunds, their son Joey, their daughter Jessica and their friend Richard Katz. It is about how we use and abuse our freedom; about the beginning and ending of love; teenage lust; the unexpectedness of adult life; why we compete with our friends; how we betray those closest to us; and why things almost never work out as they `should'. It is a story about the human heart, and what it leads us to do to ourselves and each other.
I have avoided reading this book for a year or so, somewhat put off by the size of the volume, some 600-odd pages in length........not as long as some books on the TBR pile........ Robert Littell's The Company awaits further down the line at 900'ish! I just prefer reading shorter, sharper books.
The book follows Patty and Walter Berglund, though mainly Patty through high school and college into middle age, traversing friendships, romance, marriage and parenthood and the inter-action of the older Berglunds with their neighbours, children, best (or worst) friend Richard and extended families. Franzen dissects and documents the mundane and everyday occurrences as well as those out of the ordinary. The devil is in the detail and Franzen skilfully and sometimes humorously examines the hurts and pain each one of them feels and imparts on to the others.
Franzen could be commentating on anyone of us, or all of us. There's nothing particularly special or worthy about the Berglunds, that sets them apart from the rest of us trying to negotiate a way through life. I suppose that was a big part of the novel's enjoyment for me.
To be perfectly honest though, I didn't really warm to Patty Berglund and as a result didn't connect with her pain, her traumas and her life issues, though I didn't find myself despising her at any point either.
Best bit of the book, Walter and his speech-giving, a proper laugh out loud comedy moment for me.
I haven't read Franzen before, but being the greedy, avaricious accumulator that I am, I have The Corrections and The Twenty-Seventh City on pile TBR. I'll read them some time in the next 20-years, but won't be rushing to acquire his next tome.
In my opinion, John Irving does it better, probably with a touch more of the absurd but he's made me care more for his characters particularly in "Garp" and "Owen Meany."
Some commentators have described this as the "novel of the year," NO WAY!
Good, maybe a 3 plus out of 5, okay 4 then, but I wouldn't even class it as the best book I've read this month.
My copy was acquired second-hand from one of the local charity shops in sunny Leighton Buzzard - a bargain at 50p!
on May 29, 2011
Maybe Frazen was going for oxymoron, but it's hard to find over 500 pages of microscopic middle and upper middle class detail freeing. The book drones on and weighs on you. I'm not finished, but I can't find the point of it and thus I'm not sure what's making me continue except the right to say I finished it. Frazen's gift is not so much in being observant of human behaviour, but having the ability to capture it and write it down - most of us don't have the patience or inclination to painstakingly revisit the pocks of our youth. I would have liked to see a tighter opening chapter (I read it three times before I could get into the book), longer passages replaced by dialogue and overall, shorter! As with other reviewers, I found that it was overwritten and over-hyped (to settle a score with Oprah - gotta love the power of the media). I much preferred the story "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett or "The Hypnotists Love Story" by Moriarty.
on January 31, 2011
I haven't finished the book yet, but so far it is very good. I'm trying to guess at the ending, but I am unable to do so. At this point I have no idea at the direction the author is going to take to wrap up the book. I am very much enjoying reading. I don't have a lot of time to read, so it's taking me a bit to get through it.
on November 22, 2015
Graphic sex writing is great. Bad graphic sex writing is the opposite of great. This book has so much juvenile, and literally and literarily repulsive sexual moments that I began to wonder if Franzen, like Monty Python's nudge-nudge man, had ever, "you know, done it. SLEPT. With a LADY?". E.g.: As boy sits with haughty rich girl, "his half-mast boner was pointing at her like a Jaguar's hood ornament." E+gads. But sex is neither the biggest nor the worst part about this long book, which is chalk full of one-dimensional characters and oft awful dialogue. Lost in the dysfunctional-family sprawl of the book are also some interesting themes: e.g. about trying to live the green/lefty idealist life in the good old U.S.A. Nonetheless, I finished the book, so I have to say the story is as riveting as it is often hackneyed, and sometimes surprising in its twists.