Thursday, 22 March 2012
Devouring Books: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Because I really really really liked Freedom. I mean, I'm not sure if it's as 'important' and 'life changing' and 'earth shattering' as some reviewers seem to claim it is, but it is one hell of a good read! It's something that's pretty rare- a page turner that you don't really feel guilty about reading because it kind of feels like you might be learning things about yourself as you read, and if not then it definitely feels like you're learning things about other people. The characters could be anybody, and in case you're prone to forgetting, they reinforce that everybody has their story, everybody has their issues, and that we have to navigate these issues so that we can live in the best way we can, and with others in a way that is mutually beneficial.
And then there's all the stuff about freedom. And really this book is very well named, because if it wasn't called Freedom, every time they'd mentioned it (which is quite a lot) I would have just been like 'oh that's cool' and moved on, but because it was, I was like 'aahh, that's probably something I'm meant to think about' and so I did. I mean it could have been called many things, there's loads to do with family and harbouring hopes that become meaningless, and the title could have been about any of those things, but instead it's Freedom (obviously, you all saw the title of this post, right?) and so when freedom comes up as a subject, naturally one pays attention. And so, there are lots of thoughts about freedom- wanting to be free from a marriage so that one can pursue their newfound desires, wanting to be free from one's parents so that you can do whatever you feel like, and how freedom sometimes fails us- that in being free to do anything, we end up doing nothing, or worse, things that are harmful. Basically, it gives you a lot to think about!
I do have one complaint about the book, which is that there are areas in which it lacks a bit of subtlety. Specifically, there's this guy, Walter, and he's all about protecting these birds (giving them the freedom to follow their natural patterns) and also about population control, in that he essentially thinks people shouldn't have any/many children, even though he has two himself and so is slightly hypocritical (I don't know why I'm being mean about Walter because actually I liked him- the thing is, I liked him more when other characters were describing him than when I was actually observing him, which might mean something but then again might not). But anyway, Walter has all these views, that I can't help but think of as Franzen's own views, just because of their inelegant insertion into the text. I mean, Franzen may well think there are too many people on the planet (I do too, as it happens, but that's not the point) but he doesn't really tell this in an elegant way within the story, but slightly makes a manifesto of it. So, I didn't necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but just with the way he was saying it.
But. That was a pretty small thing in a novel that really impressed me, and more importantly gripped me, and pretty much didn't let me go once I got past the first little section (which I didn't like that much). It's honest, sometimes funny, and accurate, and manages to talk about life without being pretentious, either in style or in subject matter. I still don't know if it's an important book, but more importantly than that, I liked it, I immersed myself in it, and I didn't want to leave when it was done. If that's not the mark of a good book, then I don't know what is.