Monday, 15 November 2010

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen


DATE READ: October 2010

NOTES: Like his earlier work, The Corrections, this is a family saga. Outwardly Patty and Walter Berglund look like the ideal parents to an ideal family. They are a bit smug and judgemental about others. But this is no happy family. Tensions and divisions abound. Teenage son Joey clashes continually with his parents and leaves home to live with (to Patty’s horror) their blue collar neighbours. Patty is a depressive and still bitter about the way in which her mother seemed to prefer her second daughter. In the same vein Walter feels he has always played second fiddle to his brother Mitch.

But throughout the whole novel there exists an eternal triangle: Walter, Patty and Richard Katz. Katz is an intriguing character – charismatic, talented, emotionally powerful and yet odious. The book is complex and spins off in different directions of time and space. But it is so beautifully written that it would be hard not to be drawn into the narrative.

As well as being concerned with the dynamics of family life Freedom clearly signals issues from the first part of this century. Walter is a keen environmentalist and becomes involved in a fairly dodgy project. Joey gets well paid work “reconstructing” Iraq which actually means buying up substandard equipment for selling on at inflated prices.

Franzen isn’t frightened about letting us know how he feels about things. Different ideas about freedom intersperse the story as do his frequent “rants” – such as against consumerism, the shallowness of youth, the Republicans. I especially applauded his rant about cats!

I loved The Corrections and so was looking forward to this new work. Was it worth the ten year wait? Yes, it certainly was – it is brilliant!

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