Blake Morrison has published his review of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, in the Guardian. Reading a Brit’s view of this very American novel is refreshing. Plus Morrison is an insightful reader.
Here’s an excerpt:
Like most writers, Franzen is a mass of contradictions. His fiction is generous and expansive, but it’s achieved through monastic discipline: no children, no holidays, several years spent working on each book (seven for The Corrections, nine for Freedom). He has a great ear and eye for contemporary speech and manners, but during spells of writing The Corrections he sat in the dark with earmuffs and a blindfold. He’s up-to-speed with technological developments and how they’re changing the world, but he doubts whether anyone with an internet connection at the workplace can write good fiction. His literary taste is sternly high-minded but he claims not to understand how anyone can enjoy reading Samuel Beckett. He thinks of fiction as a “form of social opposition”, but his prevailing tone is sociable, ironic, forgiving. He’s widely acclaimed for having written the first great novel of the 21st century, but the form of that novel – state-of-the-nation social realism – looks back to Dickens and George Eliot.
Most of these contradictions, especially the last, aren’t contradictions at all. The 19th-century novel had, at best, a moral complexity and social range that allowed readers to understand the world they lived in. And although Franzen knows that television, radio and the internet have supposedly replaced fiction as “the pre-eminent medium of social instruction”, he doubts whether they can offer what the novel does. “More than ever, to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful,” he has said, books being the place “where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world”.
An earlier post about my response to Freedom here.