It has taken Franzen nine years to complete Freedom, the follow-up to his 2001 bestselling novel The Corrections, and the wait seems worth it. The novelist just made the cover of Time magazine, the first living author to enjoy that distinction since Stephen King a decade ago. And the positive reviews are beginning to pour in all of which point to it being that rarest of things: an ambitious literary novel and a bestseller.
When I say positive, I mean positive. The Guardian is claiming it as “the novel of the century” with a wrap that starts a formidable and harrowing work, Jonathan Franzen’s new book is on a different plane from other contemporary fiction.
That is some claim. I am a little more tempered but it certainly is a great novel. While the structure at times seemed awkward, Franzen’s ability to create fully-realized, three-dimensional characters and, more so, to inhabit their minds with such penetrating psychological acuity, is seemingly limitless. Sam Anderson says much the same in his article for New York magazine. We have excerpts from that review and others here.
Fourteen years ago, Franzen declared that sweeping socially engaged novels by serious writers had lost their appeal. He then went on to write one, and to sell more than 1.5 million copies of it. A decade later he is attempting to prove himself wrong a second time.
Freedom is a multi-generational epic that follows an idealistic young couple who settle in the rough neighbourhood of St Paul, Minnesota. A very powerful insight into the disillusion of marriage and a story about the challenges, burdens and opportunities of personal freedom, the novel is full of the more generous ironies that endeared The Corrections to readers and literary reviewers alike. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s intensely realised characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.
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