Monthly Archives: May 2011

Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

This book is about Patty and Walter’s marriage, but it is also about so much else; America’s involvement in Iraq, the environment, parenting, the effect of poverty on a community and individuals, etc.

Here is the blurb …

Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul – the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter – environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man – she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz – outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival – still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become ‘a very different kind of neighbor,’ an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s intensely realized 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.

This book was easy to read, however, it is quite complex. It reminded me of Middlemarch – so much going on. I’m not going to do it justice in this review, which (as is my custom) is going to be short – I’ll like to some other reviews at the end. For me this was novel was about the American condition in a post 9/11 world. This isn’t the America portrayed by Hollywood. There is no black and white only shades of grey. For example, is it OK to allow MTR (Mountain Top Removal) mining in your bird sanctuary if the miners are going to return it to a near pristine state and then the land will be off limits for future development? Walter, Patty and Richard participate in a love triangle that lasts for decades and inflicts pain on all of them.

This novel is beautifully written, the characters are true to life – messy, confused. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work.

Here are some more reviews … (This is the First Tueday Book Club’s take on Freedom)



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‘The Distance Between Us’ and ‘My Lover’s Lover’ – Maggie O’Farrell

I’ve been having a bit of a Maggie O’Farrell festival.

Here is the blurb for The Distance Between Us

Stella has fled London to confront the childhood secret which has marked her life. A set of tragic circumstances and a hasty marriage bring Jake from Hong Kong to Britain, where he embarks upon a quest for the father he never knew. When Jake and Stella meet, both of their lives are changed forever.

I didn’t like this novel as much as The Hand that First Held Mine or After You’d Gone, but more than My Lover’s Lover. Stella has a secret and it seems to involve a red-haired man with a Scottish accent (all sorts of ideas run through your mine, but I never guessed the truth). She is very close to her sister Nina (too close I think). Stella runs away from a job in London to a menial job in a hotel in country Scotland. Jake, while searching for his father, turns up at the same hotel. This story has all of the features of an O’Farrell novel; different view points, a mystery, shifting time, etc.

Here are some other reviews …

Reading Guide at Maggie O’Farrell’s website

Here is the blurb for My Lover’s Lover

When Lily meets Marcus at a gallery opening in London, she is immediately attracted to him. In less than a week, she falls deeply in love with the magnetic but elusive architect and moves into his echoing loft apartment in East London.

Nothing could have prepared Lily for what she finds there. A distinct presence of another woman lingers in the loft, one who seems to have disappeared in a hurry, leaving behind a single party dress hanging in the closet, a puzzling mark on the wall, and the suffocating scent of jasmine. Lily’s unsettling curiosity turns to obsession as the spirit of this mysterious woman increasingly haunts her.

Who was she? What were the circumstances of her sudden disappearance? Marcus refuses to talk about the woman or her fate. The apartment’s other inhabitant, Aidan, seems to understand Lily’s concern, but he is also unwilling to give her any information.

This would have to be my least favourite novel. I didn’t like Lily or Marcus and there wasn’t much of Aiden (who I did like). The ghost sections were fabulous, but Lily just seemed creepy and/or mad. I could see what O’Farrell was trying to do (can’t tell you otherwise it will ruin the story), but I just didn’t like it.

Here are some other reviews…



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After You’d Gone – Maggie O’Farrell

As I loved The Hand That First Held Mine (read about that here), I had to read more of her work. I wasn’t disappointed.

Here is the blurb …

“When Alice Raike’s sisters come to pick her up at the train station, they find her wild-eyed, confused, and insistent on returning to London that very minute. Only a few hours later, they receive terrible news – Alice is lying in a coma after an accident that may or may not have been a suicide attempt. While her life hangs in the balance, Alice’s family gathers at her bedside. As they wait, argue, and remember, long-buried tensions rise to the surface. Alice, meanwhile, sliding between different levels of consciousness, recalls her past and the end of a tragic love affair…

This is classic O’Farrell – different narrative view points, jumping around in time and suspense (exactly what did Alice see in the bathroom?) I can’t write about the plot without giving the story away, I’ll just say that the Raikes family has issues, but by O’Farrell switching viewpoints we have sympathy for all of the characters (even, I’m surprised to say, Alice’s mother Ann). O’Farrell’s ability to write the inner thoughts and motivations of her characters is uncanny. There is no black and white, good or bad, just many shades of grey. Your sympathies alter with the narrative – I was constantly revising my opinion about Ann. If you like character driven novels, then you will enjoy O’Farrell’s novels.

More reviews …


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What Women Want – Fanny Blake

I was sent this novel to review (how exciting!).

Here’s the blurb …

Friends forever.

Then he came along …

Bea’s contending with a new boss, power-hungry colleagues and a stroppy teen-aged son, not to mention the anxieties of returning to the dating game.

Stressed-out Kate is coping with an empty nest and the growing realisation that her marriage has lost its shine.

Finally, Ellen, who has devoted herself to her children and her art gallery following her husband’s death, is falling head over heels in love with Oliver.

They have always known they can depend on each other, no matter what. But with Oliver in their midst, will their friendship survive?

This book is exactly what it claims to be – an easy to read romantic comedy/drama. It is well written. It never had any of those clunky or forced moments. The heroines were a bit older than what you typically find in a romance novel, however, these women weren’t looking for romance. They were looking for a better way to live their lives.

I enjoyed this novel and look forward to more of her work.

Here are some other reviews …

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