October 09, 2010

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

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.


Steph said...

I only received my copy of this about two weeks ago and other reading commitments meant it has sat idly by while it seems like everyone else on the planet has been reading it. I thought your insights into the book were wonderfully honest and I expect that I might wind up feeling similar to you... I just can't wait to join the discussion!

Karen said...

Hi Steph - I'm really looking forward to hearing what you think of this one - I need to engage in more discussion about it I think to get it clear in my own head!!

Tamara said...

Hi Karen, sometimes you're so much more tolerant than I am. Thanks for your honest review. By the title I might have been interested.. Do you think the author has choosen the complexity of 'family' to describe something purposefully? It just seems by bth your reviews that he's used the family as the medium in both books but neither of them have entirely satisfied your curiosity.. what do you think he was trying to convey?

Karen said...

Hi T - that's an interesting question! I think he chooses to focus on the family in both books because he is trying to make a comment about "middle America" in some way and he feels that the family structure is a good way to do this. By the way, I think you are WAY more tolerant than me!!