Friday 20 April 2012

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

The Berglunds are the perfect family. Or so it seems to their neighbours who feel that they are maybe too perfect. Behind closed doors that perfection is beginning to deteriorate. Patty is trying to be the perfect wife and mother. Everything she believes her own family lacked. When her son runs off with the girl next door and her daughter seems to disapprove of her Patty begins to think maybe she should have chosen another life for herself. Husband Walter loved Patty from the first day they met. His love though was also a bit of an obsession as he could only see her goodness and none of the failings that make people human. When Patty starts to break down he begins to see that maybe he made his own mistakes and so throws himself into a project that proves to be questionable. Add in to the mix a son who defies him and is determined to believe the complete opposite of him and a best friend he has spent his entire life competing with.

A rather large book which follows one family through their mistakes. A few people have said that the book is about people who are completely unlikeable and so they didn't enjoy it. I have to say that I don't agree. I actually liked the characters, well most of them. I especially liked Patty. All her flaws just made her all the more human as she tried to be the person that Walter thought she was. In all honesty I did like her better as a teenager than I did  when she was a neurotic mother. Walter I liked too although I have to say for someone who is so intelligent how could he not see the problem with his project? I was also a little bored by the constant descriptions of it. Possible a necessary part of the theme but there were times I felt myself skimming over his explanations after having read about it 3 or 4 times already. I even liked his best friend Richard who was selfish and self destructive. Joey is probably the only character I didn't take to. His decision to sell dodgy parts to the army in defiance of his father was deplorable as were the excuses he told himself for doing it. Then his treatment of Connie. I was annoyed at her for not having the back bone to tell him where to go too mind you. Even when he became a good guy again I just didn't like him.

The book dips in and out of the past of all these characters until the moment in time where the book begins. It then moves forward from 2004 to 2007 detailing each of their lives in turn. The point of the book is in the title. Each of the characters is fighting for their freedom but has also given it away. Patty for example, her determination not to be like her mother has meant that she has limited her choices in the future. Joey is fighting against his parents for freedom and has been since a small child. Once he has it he find he can't really break completely away and begins to make mistake after mistake. I could actually sit here all day and write about all the different ways this theme runs through the book. I imagine it would have been a good one to choose if I had still been in school. When an author pointedly makes a theme like that it can come across as a little pretentious I think but this didn't happen here. Instead it tied everything together.

A great book that I found difficult to put down. When I picked it up last week I only meant to look at it as I was determined to finish Angelmaker first. Instead Angelmaker was put aside yet again. If you like large books based round one family and don't mind flawed characters or their constant mistakes then you might like this.

I read this for the modern fiction category of the Mixing It Up challenge hosted by Ellie of Musings of a Bookshop Girl. Like the last one it wasn't really a category I had difficulty with. It was a good excuse to try this author after seeing so many people raving about him last year. Definitely an author I will read again. Next months category is Graphic Novels and I already have that one picked out.


  1. YES! I was definitely bored with Walter's constant descriptions of his bird project (and I have to admit that I skipped a lot of that) although I did like him, probably more than Patty, I'd say. And I did like Joey, but only towards the end, when he realised that it's ok to love the person he loves.

    But yeah, I LOVED this book. Loved it.

  2. Great review; you pretty much covered everything. I am still on the fence about this one, though. What was the writing like (apart from his project)?

    1. Thank you. I liked the writing. When it was from Patty's point of view it was in the form of an autobiography. It was meant to be a therapy tool and it was her parts that gave all the background. With the others it was a form of flashbacks but that was mainly Walter. You could definitely hear different voices coming through in the writing. Plus, apart from Walter's project, it kept my interest going. Even with Joey, whom I didn't like.