April 16, 2017 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

The-Corrections by Jonathan Franzen won the national book award in the US and was a finalist in the pulitzer.

Bookgroupers agreed the writing was great but many people felt it was unnecessarily long due to the inclusion of many tangents that went on for pages. The book is peppered with little essays on obscure topics such as the demise of American railways, metallurgy, and Lithuanian internet scams. These are all presented as back stories to one or other of the book’s characters but they rarely serve any real purpose in helping the reader understand those characters, or the overall story. They seem to be included for the the benefit of the author rather than the reader or the novel.

Similarly the book includes a lot of references to academic discussions of feminist and postmodernist philosophy, and name checks lots of the well known writers in those disciplines. But once again it achieves nothing within the novel, the purpose appears to be to persuade the reader that author has read this literature, and nothing more.

In addition to these frustrations with unnecessary length, Bookgroupers also found it hard to care about the story because they felt many characters were deeply unlikable. I thought it was hard to care about because its just a middle-class family drama where nothing particularly interesting happens. Its a very familiar world and I found it hard to see the point.

However, we all agreed that some of the writing beautiful and insightful. For example, there is a description of what it is like to have Parkinson’s that really makes you feel like you understand. I found reading this passage to be a very powerful experience. In places like this it was easy to agree that the writing was wonderful, that the author is some kind of genius capable of great insight and understanding, and the book is deserving of its fame.

However, for me these moments were too rare. Over 15 years pos -publication the book feels like a product of its time and place and class. It’s an exploration of a lot of ideas which were widely discussed, and considered important, by middle-class academic people across much of the Western world in the 90s and early 2000’s. It does have some great passages in it, like the one on Parkinsons, but I think there is a better explanation of its success.

At that time of its publication in 2001 the current obsessions of the literary book reading class in the Anglophone world were exactly those addressed in the novel.

How relevant it is now, at a later time, or to anyone who is not from that class and did not live through that period, Is questionable?

I would recommend it if you want a crash course on the academic feminism or the postmodernism of the 90s without having to go to university or read a whole lot of incomprehensible 20th century French philosophy. Or if you have an evening coming up when you will have to spend some time with academics from the humanities,. you could read this book and pick up all the right attitudes, the language they use, and some of the names of the writers and philosophers they will refer to, and manage to fit right in.

However, if your aim is to read a good book, i’d try something else.



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