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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 20 January 2014
I found this book infuriating in places - it's too long, the opening isn't particularly engaging and certain sections are predictable. But when it's good, it's very, very good, and the characters are rounded and complex enough to sustain your interest for (the majority of) the novel. It raises interesting questions, and is fundamentally about such universal things that you can't help but question your life choices after you've read it. This book isn't as good as reviews make out but, equally, it isn't a waste of 400-odd pages; you will get something from it.
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Over the years, I've consumed more than my body weight in American coming-of-age-and-how-it-all-pans-out-in-adulthood novels. The cast mix usually includes a bright one, a plain one, an attractive one, a doomed one, a rich one, a poor one and a shy one (some of these may overlap). The stories are often told from the point of view of the shy one and are often set in New York City. They invariably feature smart dialogue, a degree of introspection and at least one tragedy. And they're usually very well written.

The Interestings is no exception.

A slow burn initially, the narrative turns into an increasingly absorbing read. Meg Wolitzer is particularly good on the transitional stage just before adolescents grow into their adult selves. She has a handle on writing believable young characters - seems to feel them in her bones - and here she takes them through to middle age so we can see how they develop and how the world they live in evolves. So perhaps no prizes for originality but a commendation (and certainly a recommendation) for empathy, authenticity and a welcome dash of wit.
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on 3 June 2014
Disclaimer: While I aim to be unbiased, I received a copy of this for free to review.

Wow, what can I say? I’m a convert. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first picked up this book, considering it started off set in an American summer camp, the kind of place that a British boy like me has no experience of whatsoever. Luckily, that plays a relatively minor role in the narrative, although it sure as hell leaves its mark on the protagonists.

And I can safely say, hand on heart, that this is one of the most interesting (geddit?) and well-written modern novels that I’ve read in a long time, a credit to both Wolitzer and to the Waterstones book club, which is the reason why I read it in the first place. I’m glad I did – I don’t often give a book a ten out of ten when I review it, I reserve that honour for a book that left me changed when I reached the ending. That definitely happened here.

Particularly worthy of credit is Wolitzer’s ability to write about characters of both sexes convincingly – too many novelists can only write about their own gender, but Wolitzer’s characters are well-rounded and believable whether they’re male or female, even if you don’t necessarily like them.

There’s even a rape involved, an event that’s covered with ambiguity and extremely well-handled – despite being unnecessarily hailed as a ‘feminist writer’ (this annoys me as much as Graham Greene being a ‘Catholic writer‘, rather than just a ‘writer’), Wolitzer lends equal gravitas to both sides of the argument. You’re never quite sure who’s telling the truth, and in the end you feel kind of sorry for both parties, although I’m sure everyone has their own idea of what really happened by the end of the novel.

My only gripe is with the title – to be fair, it has significance (it’s the name that the group of teenage campers assigns to themselves), and it has been praised by other people. I’m just not a fan of the approach of taking an adjective and turning it in to a noun for the title of a book or a movie – it’s done all the time, as with The Incredibles, The Expendables and even The Inbetweeners.

But overall, The Interestings is an epic novel, a must-read whether you’re old or young, American or British, an introvert or an extrovert. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did, and I almost cried at the end – not the reaction you’d expect from a male in his mid-twenties, a geeky book blogger who reads on the bus to work. Meg Wolitzer, I salute you, and I look forward to reading more of your work. Make sure you stay interesting.
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on 14 September 2014
This book certainly did keep me interested, and as the reader 'grows up' with the characters they are likely to find themselves more and more involved in their lives and stories, as I was. The characters, especially Jules and Ethan, are depicted and developed in a way that makes the reader care for them, and they can be lovable one moment and infuriating the next, just like real friends. This book struck me as being about how events, both big and small, have profound effects on our lives. It's a wonderful study of friendships and how our interactions with others, behaviours and even split second decisions can deeply our own lives and other people's. Whilst we are becoming absorbed in these interactions between characters, Wolitzer is also showing us how events in the wider world shape the course of our lives and we see how the Aids epidemic, the economy, 9/11 etc provide challenges, opportunities and both limit and enhance the life chances of the characters. This means that the book is more than just the story of a few people, thrown together in a certain place and time. The reader is also encouraged to consider much bigger issues such as inequality and feminism, and this makes The Interestings both an enjoyable and thought- provoking read.
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on 26 September 2015
I heard about this when it was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013 so it's taken me a while to get around to reading it. It's a good enough story and a satisfying ending particularly where Jules is concerned but I didn't feel swept away by it (which is what makes a book a 4 star rating for me). Interesting, rather than absorbing, probably sums it up.
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on 19 February 2015
I was totally absorbed by the slow unravelling of these people's lives and watching what they became. Such insight - different people, different motivations, different ways of coping with the vicissitudes of life. There's lots to recognise, and the way the characters' lives are separate but woven together is constantly fascinating. Masterly writing. Deeply drawn characters. It's like a long, slow process of discovery, all of it adding up to something. It's my first experience of Meg Wolitzer. I'll be reading her others now for sure.
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VINE VOICEon 9 October 2014
This book grabbed me right from the start. The story unfurls at an American summer camp for creative kids, we're introduced to a bunch of them and follow their life stories from there. Wolitzer's writing is genuinely funny and it's clear that she has a keen eye for observing human behaviour - her characters are completely realistic and believable, whilst also remaining constantly interesting. There's no real great mystery to unearth in this book, it's more a character study, sometimes comedic. affecting and sad. The premise is reminiscent of Tartt's Secret History or a Franzen novel, but The Interestings seems much more accessible than both of those authors. The Interestings is a book you can get stuck into and enjoy with a well rounded cast of characters that are well written enough to seem like old friends.
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on 6 January 2015
I read this book on a long flight and found it the perfect companion. It's an ambitious undertaking with a wide scope, a bildungsroman of a very disparate group of friends. I really felt sad to leave them, they were carefully drawn with all their idiosyncrasies and their faults, their fluctuations in fortune, their career absorbing book.
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on 3 September 2013
Read the review of this book in The Times, never heard about it before. Such a good read especially if you "came of age" in the 70s, this book and the stories of the different characters in it will find a reflection in your own life, I am sure. So pleased I tried a new author for a change.
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"The Interestings" is the latest novel from American author Meg Wolitzer, New York Times bestselling author of The Ten-Year Nap. She has previously published eight novels; also among the better known, The Wife, and The Uncoupling. She is, as you might expect, the daughter of the well-known American writer Hilma Wolitzer, who has said," I mostly write about domestic situations. I truly believe that what happens in bedrooms and kitchens matters as much as what happens in boardrooms and statehouses." Meg could say much the same: this novel, at least, concerns itself with the domestic; families, gender politics: you'd have to call it chick lit, though with a literary touch. (Full disclosure: I've previously read and reviewed, in these pages, An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer.)

It is the early 1970s, the summer that Nixon resigned, and six teenagers at Spirit in the Woods, an artsy summer camp, come together. Jules Jacobson, born Julie, lower middle-class, in a forgettable suburb on New York's Long Island, but instantaneously renamed by her new friends; she will be our protagonist. Goodman and Ash Wolf, handsome/beautiful brother and sister born to a powerful and wealthy New York City family; funny-looking Ethan Figman, blazingly talented, born to a quarrelsome and poor family, by virtue of the fact that his father is a Legal Aid lawyer. Cathy Kiplinger, who'd like to think she was born to dance: except she's become much too buxom. Jonah Bay, a very handsome long-haired boy, with musical talent, born to a single mother, a then beautiful and popular folk singer. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but almost everything else has changed. In THE INTERESTINGS, Wolitzer follows these characters from the 1970s through the 2010s.

If Wolitzer's book has a theme, it is, to quote the book jacket: "The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules's now-married best friends, become shockingly successful--true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken."

So, "The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life."

Wolitzer studied creative writing at Smith College and graduated from Brown University. She wrote her first novel, Sleepwalking, a story of three college girls obsessed by poetry and death, while still an undergraduate. She has taught writing at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop and Skidmore College, and has written several screenplays, mostly unproduced.

The author is, of course, an able writer, capable of examining changing relationships with a cool eye. She does a good job with New York's well-known liberal, artsy neighborhoods, Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, the Upper West Side. She also does a good job with New York in the dark, dangerous and druggy 1970s, 80s, and 90s: the 1980s of course, saw in the beginning, the surprise outbreak of AIDS in the gay community, and later in the decade, the scourge of crack cocaine addiction. Former New York City Detective Kirk Burkhalter once said, "Drugs. Guns. Gangs. New York City was just crime central at that time," recalling an era so blood-soaked that the city had a record 2,245 homicides in 1990, compared with 414 last year. Mind you, the writer is less interested in the 2000s and 2010s; the obligatory bow to 9/11, and then she rushes on.

From the early 1970s through 2005, I happen to have lived in New York myself, and can tell you Wolitzer definitely gets the city right. And, though not born on Long Island, as Wolitzer and her character Jules are, I found myself growing up there, and knowing the timetables of the Long Island Rail Road, and Penn Station all too well. Wolitzer doesn't put a foot wrong there either. However, in reading this book, I ultimately found myself less patient than the author and her character Jules: I got bored with her gang of six. And I'm not sure that I found the supposed character arcs of most of the gang entirely believable, either. How much you enjoy this book is likely to depend on how much you like a rather extended close focus on a small group of people.
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