A magnum opus for our morally complex times from the author of Freedom and The Corrections. Includes an interview with the author.
Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother - her only family - is hazardous.
But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life.
Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organisation that traffics in all the secrets of the world - including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.
Jonathan Franzen’s Purity is a grand story of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has imagined a world of vividly original characters - Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers - and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Purity is the most daring and penetrating book yet by one of the major writers of our time.
"Deeper, funnier, sadder and truer than a work of fiction has any right to be." (Independent on Sunday)
"Head and shoulders above any other book this year: moving, funny and unexpectedly beautiful. I missed it when it was over." (Sam Mendes, Observer, Books of the Year)
"A cat's cradle of family life.... ‘Freedom' is a great book" (Kirsty Wark Observer, Books of the Year)
"No question about it: Freedom swept everything before it in intricately observed, humane, unprejudiced armfuls. There was no novel to touch it in 2010." (Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year)
'Franzen pulls off the extraordinary feat of making the lives of his characters more real to you than your own." (David Hare, Guardian, Books of the Year)
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Unbelievable, pornographic, beguiling...
I hadn't read any Franzen before. The interview at the end of the audio book was a love-in for white American middle aged men. They avoided talking about all the sex which took up about 50% of the story.
The male and female readers brought out the gender and age differences well.
I got caught up in this book, but then found myself bored and irritated. The sex went on and on, and was written from a very male perspective. The character of Andreas Wolf was not believable whether he was having sex or masturbating - which he did frequently. Annabel was much more believable in terms of her self-obsession, and the conversations between her and Tom as she drew him into her world were masterly and disturbing. Her extreme position on the world, renouncing all her wealth, was much less believable, and her return to her expensive tastes towards the end of the book were unconvincing. Pip was more interestingly conflicted and unsure of herself, with a believable adolescent idealism to begin with. Endearing until Franzen had to fantasise about Wolf and she having sex and then she became a cardboard cut out - he really doesn't do women and sex well, except perhaps as pornography for middle aged men reliving their imaginary youth. There was an attempt to give Pip a happy ending which was trite, first she tries to get them to be reconciled, and then her parents pick up their arguments as if the 20+ years of separation had never happened.
Well I did finish it, although the long drawn out story palled eventually. If I'd been reading a print version, probably I would not have. I am not a techie, but I don't think Franzen is either, the technical details were patchy, and the part of the plot about the Sunlight Project exposing secrets was poorly supported with convincing detail. Perhaps prolific and successful male American writers don't need to do research, even when they could afford to employ a researcher.. Would I recommend this book? Well that depends on your taste in pornography, and your gender probably. Up to you!
Like stories of narcissists? You'll love this.