Friday, February 19, 2016

'Purity' by Jonathan Franzen

19 February 2016

Jonathan Franzen’s wonderful 2001 novel ‘The Corrections’ cleverly made the reader sympathise simultaneously with people who held completely opposing points of view – turning apparently unlikeable characters into sympathetic people. Franzen's new novel 'Purity' seems to reverse this approach: the more we get to know each of the main characters, exploring their backstories in lengthy flashbacks, the less likeable they seem to become. 'Purity' (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Dylan Baker, Jenna Lamia and Robert Petkoff) is another mammoth novel addressing 'state of the nation' issues while focussing on the minutae of family life – with much in common with 'The Corrections' and Franzen's 2010 novel 'Freedom' (reviewed here in April 2012). In 'Purity' he tackles the Internet and the world of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden et al. Large parts of the book portray events in East Germany prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The prose is beautifully written but the subject matter is often quite grim and each section of the book – exploring events through the eyes of each of the principal characters in turn – is incredibly long, making it difficult to remember characters and events from the earlier chapters when you finally return to them near the end of the book. The main protagonist, a young woman called Purity, is nicknamed Pip – suggesting parallels with 'Great Expectations', particularly when we learn that Pip may well be about to come into a fortune – but the potential links to Dickens feel disappointingly under-explored. Jonathan Franzen is a fascinating and impressive novelist but I would not recommend new readers to start with 'Purity'.



Post a Comment

<< Home