Before writing this entry for Franzen's new novel I went back to look at my reflections on his other novel, The Corrections , which I read two years ago as I wanted to try and work out which book I would say I "liked" the best. Unfortunately my thoughts from two years ago didn't really help me all that much when it came to which book I would rate above the other - I think it has only confused me further!
Freedom is a book gaining a lot of press and attention at the moment, Oprah has chosen it as her new Book Club selection and even Australian reviewers are slogging it constantly in their columns. At 562 pages it is certainly an epic novel in terms of size and the themes it covers could also be considered as overarching and wide spread.
The novel starts with an overview of the upper middle class suburban Berglund family - husband and wife, Walter and Patty and their two teenage children, Jessica and Joey - with the narrator stating; "There had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds".
After the initial plot building chapter where we learn that the Berglund families situation has gone off the rails somewhat we are taken back in time to Patty's childhood as she relates her story of growing up in Westchester County, New York - an sport talented outsider in her artistic and intellectual family. Patty tells the story of moving to Minnesota to attend College (a school chosen because it was far away from home and because she knew it would annoy her mother) and meeting serious, studious Walter and his best friend - lead singer in a burgeoning rock band, Richard Katz.
The relationships between these three characters, Patty, Walter and Richard is at the heart of this book and it is what propels the story forward - and makes it stagnate at times. The story is told from the perspectives of all three (with my favoured being Patty) which allows you to see the same event from the viewpoint of all of them - a technique I do tend to like.
I had a real love/hate relationship with this book - there were times (particularly at the beginning) where I was loving it and couldn't put it down but the very long middle section really dragged for me - and then the ending redeemed it again. I thought it was way too long and overly repetitive in places but I also can see how all of this narrative was needed to develop the ideas being put forward by the author so I'm not sure what the solution is there!
The idea of freedom and who has it and how it can be achieved is explored through all of the characters and there are many different ways in which freedom is portrayed throughout the story - personal and political. Ultimately I found that the idea of freedom may not really be something we have any control over - ironically enough!
It was a labour - not necessarily always of love - to get through this book but I feel happy to now be able to think about the story that has been put forward and get involved in a discussion about the latest Franzen.