Monday, October 10, 2011

Freedom? Yeah, right

As promised, I downloaded and read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen over the last two or three weeks and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It's a strange story considering it runs for some 600 pages: in essence nothing more than a bunch of people's lives, how they mess one another up, and they all reach some sort of vague conclusion of happiness, or something like it, come the end. It would be hard to sell it to a commissioning editor if it wasn't Franzen and his name behind it, I suspect.

Yet, the characters are wonderfully defined, their backgrounds and histories real and well imagined, their interactions with one another laced with enough disappointment and anger to help you identify, care and empathise with them, or be repulsed, sickened or shocked.

There are some weighty themes going on too. Environmentalism, vapid consumerism, the endless waste of the west, the me-first culture of North America, all clearly targets of Franzen's own world view given voice in the character of Walter Berglund.

While probably not quite as good as The Corrections, which had more humour infused throughout while I found the character of Joey hard to believe in places - flying to Paraguay to buy scrap truck parts for a contractor with a $300,000 loan sitting over his head, aged 20? - Freedom is certainly worth most of the heavy praise it generated on release.

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