Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom – is it worth all the hype?

Let me get the ball rolling (although, please: the real-life book club hasn’t met to discuss Freedom yet – so no spoilers on how it ends for anyone who hasn’t finished yet!). I wanted to read Freedom partly because of the rave reviews – it’s been described as the defining novel of the century so far, the next Great American Novel etc etc and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. 100 pages from the end, and I haven’t made up my mind – it strikes me as an incredibly ambitious novel, a very conscience attempt to encapsulate post 9/11 middle class America… but is it really all it’s cracked up to be? I’m just getting to ball rolling, remember; so please, discuss!

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6 comments

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    ewebber - 25 February 2011, 5:29 am

    @merryama when are you planning to meet to discuss the book?

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    martinmccallion - 25 February 2011, 1:52 pm

    I enjoyed it while I was reading it, though it had that quite annoying thing that when it changed viewpoints it often left you wishing you were still with the last one.And ultimately, I’m not sure I liked it. It certainly didn’t make me want to rush out and read _The Corrections_, or any of his others.Hmm, I’m sure I had some more sophisticated insights when I finished it, but It didn’t write them down at the time. Annoying, that.I largely agreed with this review here.”

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    merryama - 25 February 2011, 5:12 pm

    @ewebber Next meeting is on Sunday, details on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/event.php?eid=187147504640840&index=1@martinmccallion Having finished reading the book this morning, I was more impressed than I was expecting to be. I’ll try to articulate my thoughts a little more thoroughly later – but whilst I have 30 secs now: it seems despite all the characters’ yearning for \freedom” they can’t escape their pasts and family patterns are doomed to be repeated. I thought the book dealt with big themes through the eyes of a small family; although it was perhaps a bit unrealistic and contrived at times… I’m thinking of giving the book an 8 1/2 out of ten.Any other Freedom lovers/haters out there?”

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    ewebber - 25 February 2011, 5:21 pm

    @merryama – eep not enough time to read this one in time for Sunday, I’ll keep my eye on here for the next book

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    ewebber - 1 March 2011, 5:34 pm

    @merryama how was the meeting? do you have a new book?

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    merryama - 2 March 2011, 11:41 am

    @ewebber Meeting was a good one, thanks! Everyone rated the book pretty highly – scores ranged from 6.5 to 9.5 out of 10 (and what book could ever be perfect?) and there was certainly a lot of meat in the novel which made for some lengthy discussions…1/ We debated the extent to which Freedom sets out to be – and achieves its goal in being? – a conscious depiction of America in the first decade of the 21st century. We talked about the obvious ambitions of Franzen to create just that – his frequent references to Tolstoy betraying some kind of arrogance perhaps, as he set out to be the modern-day Great – but concluded that this arrogance doesn’t take away from the fact that he has produced something fairly impressive.2/ People felt that some of the themes were a little contrived, however – the whole arms trade thing, for example; it seemed a little bit too convenient that those evicted for the sake of Walter’s warbler/mining project were going to be employed by the very same and very evil company for whom Joey had been working. Also quite handy that Joey was able to donate his fat sum of money to Walter’s Free Space initiative, therefore keeping that story going… It seemed the environment and the shameful charade of the war in Iraq were two Big Themes which Franzen needed to work into his novel, and sometimes his way of doing this were a bit clumsy. Generally the plot – and the characters and their dialogue/interactions with one another – were very believable and realistic, which made Lalitha’s sudden death all the more grating as well.3/ We talked about the whole idea of ‘Freedom’ in its many different guises in the book. The obvious idea of Walter’s pet project for Free Space, but also the freedom that each of the characters is pursuing… Ultimately, it seems that they are all trying to escape from something – family, their past – but it seemed perhaps that the message in the book is that we can never be free of these things. Patty fled her family – her clever, arty, self-satisfied sisters and parents who didn’t take her teenage rape seriously – yet by the end of the book she is almost back in the family fold, reconciled with all but Abigail. She is also back with Walter, who is again friends with Richard, despite the hurt they had all caused one another. Walter had desperately tried not to replicate the painful relationship he had had with his own father – and which his own father had had with his father – and yet Walter and his son Joey are constantly at war. Perhaps this was inevitable? Joey spent years ostensibly trying to shrug off Connie, but by the end of the book they appear to be happily – or at least resignedly – long-term married; the relationship with his childhood bed buddy is so formative that he never frees himself from it, despite thinking that he wants something else (like Jenna). The one relationship from which any character successfully managed to extricate themselves is Patty from Eliza – although the memory of that still seems to stick with her for many years.4/ We discussed the various kinds of love in the book. Outside the conventional husband/wife, father/son relationships, we talked particularly about the very dependent ‘love’ between Patty and Eliza, and Richard and Walter – and whether these kinds of relationships were replicated at all in ‘real life’. Several people doubted the kind of love Richard felt for Walter – we felt we didn’t understand Richard well enough as a character – partly because the book was rarely if ever narrated from his point of view. What was in it for Richard? Actually, we went on for hours and hours… but would be interested to hear any reaction to the thoughts above! Am also about to post details of the new book…

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