Wednesday 5 December 2018

30 Books Before 30: #8 Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I have a horrifying confession. I used to own Bel Canto by Ann Patchett but, I think because of the uninspiring cover, I never had any inclination to read it and I think it finally left the Rowsell Collection last year when I moved house.

This, I now see, was a terrible mistake. Commonwealth was SO good, you guys. Like, disturbing levels of goodness that I'm obviously incoherent about and obviously won't even be able to express properly because I am me (why do I even have a book blog? Not sure) This book is like a masterclass in storytelling - I was reading this whilst also trying to do NaNoWriMo and not only did it make me feel like a terrible writer, reading it also became the only thing I wanted to be doing which sounded the death knell for my own novel (don't worry. It wasn't any good)

The storyyy though. Let's see. Commonwealth is told in a non-linear way which I LOVE and it follows one very complex family through about a fifty year period. I think that sounds like it could be a long and rambling mess, but in fact Patchett chooses key moments from each of the characters lives and weaves them together into this amazing story. There is one main narrative moment that the stories revolve around, and it's perfect as a framing device but in the end it's only as important as all the other stories around it and I love that. I think writing at the same time as reading this only made me understand and appreciate the perfection that lay behind the crafting of this story, and so I appreciated it that bit more.

That still didn't tell you anything about the actual story, huh? Ok so. The novel opens at a baby's christening party, where I can remember none of the characters names but where the (married) mother of this new baby catches the eye of a bright young lawyer, changing both of their lives and the course of their two families' lives too. When I said that this is told over a fifty year period, what I mean is, this is the first chapter and then in the second chapter, the aforementioned baby is about 50 years old and accompanying her just young and healthy dad to a chemo appointment. The story unfolds in much the same way, going backwards and forwards throughout the years and circling around the same crucial moment.

What I especially love about this book is the tricky combining-of-families aspect of it. I think it's because my family life growing up was so normal, but I really really love well told tales of family combinations, and this one combines the two girls of one family with the four children from the other, and that combination is irresistible. There aren't even that many parts of the story where they're all together, but there is the constant impact that their time spent together has on the rest of their lives. They become interwoven in interesting and unexpected ways and did I mention that it's all just so good?

My favourite part of the story, though, was not even especially a part of the story. The (sort of) main character (also the baby from the very first chapter!) meets a famous author (which actually is a big part of the novel) and he asks her if she wants to be a writer. Her response: "No, I wanted to be a reader". I mean, same. So much the same that I still find it gross that you can't make money just from reading books and having thoughts about them, because ugh that is unfair. This happens fairly early on in the book, so that made me feel a certain kinship with this character and this book and just everything and yes.

So, yeah. This list did once again not steer me wrong, and I'm so glad it led me to this book. I now really really need to find whatever charity shop I donated Bel Canto to and get it back, and I also need to read all of the other things because oh Ann Patchett, you are a most excellent Ann, just like Ann(e) Tyler and Ann M Martin. Ten thousand thumbs up.

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