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.
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I just...can't. I have never read any Franzen, and I'm sure I'd be pleasantly surprised, like you, if I gave him a go but...no, I can't do it!ReplyDelete
I think it comes from the pretentious writer/lit students in my lit classes who worshipped him and poo-poo'd genre fiction and Harry Potter.
Eurgh! I definitely didn't encounter anyone like that, and if I had I would have been equally disgusted!Delete
I feel like I should add a disclaimer to this post now: WARNING: This book is not as good as Harry Potter! Which it isn't, but it is still pretty good!
Haha, but let's be honest...who can actually live up to the magic that is Harry Potter?Delete
I'm sure I'll read Franzen one day (and your review certainly helped) but I think it'll be one slow step at a time.
I haven't read Freedom, but I fully intend to. I read The Corrections last year expecting to hate it and felt the same way about it as you do about Freedom. It was impressive. It never came off as pretentious to me, but it really made me look inward. The people in the book were difficult to like, but I could relate and empathize with them. I like how you said, "everyone has their story, everybody has their issues." So true.ReplyDelete
I have never read Franzen. The media coverage of his antics made him tiresome to me before I even picked up one of his books. But reading your review has made me realize once again how important it is to separate the book from the writer. I do own copies of his both of his books. Maybe now I'll actually consider picking one up to read. Thanks for the review.Delete
I got The Corrections out of the library last year, and eventually was just like '... yeah, I'm never going to read it' and took it back- and I fully expected to do the same with Freedom, but I was hooked! Very pleasantly surprised :)Delete
And also, Yaaaay for me making you think about picking up Franzen! I totally agree with all his antics just being like annoying, and I thought that would impact on what I thought about Freedom, but because it's so non-pretentious, I ended up being really impressed!Delete
Well. More likely to read this now.ReplyDelete
Your review gives me hopes for The Corrections. Because I am afraid of that book and it being just a pretentious slog. Obv that's still a threat since it is a different book and all, but there's at least hope.ReplyDelete
Be brave o wise one, and you shall receive the reward of a good read... I really shouldn't have said that because I haven't read The Corrections either (although I do want to now) but I can but assume that it must be good!Delete
My feelings about this book exactly match your first paragraph there. Also, my library has at least five copies, which had the effect of making me less interested in reading it, difficult person that I am.ReplyDelete
I will tentatively add it to my TBR list solely on the strength of your recommendation.
Ha, I know what that's like! "oh, the *library* thinks it's a good book to read? What the hell does the library know?" and so on. But still- I did really like Freedom, so yay for adding it to your TBR! I'm very scared that everyone's going to read it and just be like 'what the FUCK are you on about' and never trust me again, but it's more likely you'll all just forget about it OR read it so far in the future that you will have forgotten the recommender... :)Delete
Awesome review! I loved this book when I read it and I also got a lot more about of the "Freedom" theme because of the title. Another similarity - I thought I was going to hate the book for all of the same reasons. In fact, I'd convinced myself almost all the way through the book that it was a work of pure pretension. Then I got to the end and had a moment (and I remember, I was laying on the floor next to my book cases) where I thought, "Jonathan Franzen, you sonofa..." Freedom is the kind of book I wish I could write.ReplyDelete