Customer Reviews


201 Reviews
5 star:
 (87)
4 star:
 (45)
3 star:
 (19)
2 star:
 (30)
1 star:
 (20)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Freedom to make mistakes ??
On page 361 (of the hardback edition) is the sentence, "You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to f*** up your life in whatever way you want to."

If you take away the reference to being poor and apply the sentence to middle class America, it would seem to be at the centre of this complex, highly readable and deeply human...
Published on 22 Jan 2012 by P. G. Harris

versus
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Soap for the Literati
I don't much like being critical of books - where does it get you? - but, despite its self-conscious bigness (and heavens, does it go on) Jonathan Franzen's novel `Freedom' has the word `dated' running through it, stick-of-rock-like. This is emphatically a book for liberal-minded 50-somethings and if you're under the age of 45 I would imagine you'd have trouble...
Published on 3 Dec 2010 by Morphybum


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Freedom to make mistakes ??, 22 Jan 2012
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Freedom (Paperback)
On page 361 (of the hardback edition) is the sentence, "You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to f*** up your life in whatever way you want to."

If you take away the reference to being poor and apply the sentence to middle class America, it would seem to be at the centre of this complex, highly readable and deeply human novel. The book circles around this statement as three generations of the Berglund family, their friends and associates use their differing degrees of freedom to make choices which sometimes turn out for the good but more often than not f*** up their lives and those of their children and parents. Therein is an alternative voice of the book which questions this freedom in the face the demands of family, friends and society.

At its heart are three people from the middle generation, Patty (nee Emerson) and Walter Berglund and itinerant rock musician, Richard Katz. This trio form a sort of double love triangle in which each is, in different ways, loved by the other two. It is the tensions and energy thrown off by these relationships which power the narrative drive of the novel.

The opening section introduces the Berglunds living in a gentrifying neighbourhood in Minnesota where they seem to be the perfect liberal middle class couple, environmentally aware paragons of the community. In this section Frannzen succinctly and brilliantly portrays the tensions and desires seething below the surface of a seemingly blandly civilised community.

The facade of this suburban idyll is shattered by the Berglund's son becoming precociously sexually attached to Connie, daughter of the not quite so middle class Carol. The violence of Patty's reaction is initially shocking, but becomes much more understandable as we learn about her history in the second section, a third person autobiography written by Patty at the instigation of her therapist.

The fiction of Patty's "Perfect American Mom" is peeled back as we begin to see the real damaged person underneath. As a talented sportswoman she is a disappointment to her more intellectual parents who ultimately brutally betray her in the interest of their political ambitions. Escaping to university, she is latched on to by the unnerving Eliza who in turn introduces her to the eventual other two sides of the triangle, the cool and laid back Richard and the uptight nerdy Walter. Patty's account of her life charts the increasingly complex relationship between the three of them.

Eventually, Patty's narrative gives way to accounts of Richard's late flowering career, of Walter's self delusional work, attempting to bring environmental respectability to a large mining company, and of the lives of the Berglund children, Joey and Jessica. They, like their parents, enter into the world free to make their own mistakes, but also like their parents, deeply conditioned by their upbringing.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It could be criticised for its ending which could be viewed as rather too neat, but I found it satisfying. Franzen has the courage to decide on an ending and give it to the reader whereas far too many trendily post modern authors leave things hanging. That said, the end is not without a little subtle ambiguity. Also, the Deus ex-machina of an unhappy event which happens towards the end of the novel which is necessary for its eventual conclusion may be a touch on the mechanical side.

However for me the strengths greatly outweigh the weaknesses. The crown jewel is the range of deeply human characters. I have seen the book criticised as being peopled by unlovely characters for whom the reader has no empathy. I disagree, these are deeply flawed people, and as real human beings are frequently unlikeable, but they are always, in their flawed humanity, fundamentally loveable.

I also loved the strength of the writing, ranging from almost unbearable sexual tension, to base comedy (as a character seeks to recover a swallowed wedding ring at the end of its "journey"), to the deep pathos associated with Patty's continuing unhappiness.

Thirdly this is a highly intelligent novel which will make you think, about parenting, about the interaction about the personal and the political, about what it means to love, about what it means to be alive in the western world in the 21st century. However, it should not be viewed as a difficult book, it is at heart a very readable, well plotted story.

One final interesting thing, to me, about this novel is that it is in a genre which normally sets my alarm bells ringing, middle class angst. However, when compared to contemporary English novelists whose characters have a tendency to smugness or to sitting around whining about how awful their privileged lives are, Franzen writes with a drive and energy about characters who at least have the gumption to get out and live their lives, however many mistakes they make along the way.

Very definitely recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the 2nd greatest novel of the 21st century ..., 8 Dec 2013
By 
J. J. Ward (Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Freedom (Kindle Edition)
... The first being The Corrections. Franzen continues to plough the same furrow in this one though. The philosophy of the 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, underlies both - in The Corrections through the youthful writings of the one-day family patriarch, Al Lambert, and here through the overpowering influence of a tired, amoral and charismatic musician called Richard Katz - and one imagines that that philosophy may be integral to Franzen's outlook more generally. However, in Freedom, the gloomy German thinker has a worthy opponent in the figure of one Walter Berglund, whose attempts to live out a modern, secular morality provide much of the book's narrative impetus and cultural interest. In other words, Freedom is essentially about the struggle to find a meaning in life, and, without giving too much away, it is Walter whose vision - suitably truncated - wins the day. Just.

As with The Corrections, the writing is something to behold. Franzen isn't one of those authors who shies from using big words. In his universe, Raymond Carver never existed. The odd thing is, you don't respect him any the less for it.

Shame on all those people, by the way, who gave this novel one or two stars. What is it that makes so many Amazon readers gang up against consciously intelligent books like Freedom? Stupidity? Envy? Resentment? A personal dislike of the author? All four? Actually, at the time of writing this review, EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey has a higher average star-rating on this site than Freedom, which can't be right.

Or can it? Schopenhauer wouldn't have been surprised!

Seriously though, ignore the snipes. If you value modern fiction, and you haven't read this yet, you should. And not just because it's "worthy". As quite a lot of the newspaper critics pointed out when it was first published, it's a real page-turner. Entertaining, in the best sense of the term.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


131 of 149 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Good American Novel, 26 Sep 2010
This review is from: Freedom (Hardcover)
Ten years after "The Corrections", Franzen finally comes up with the 562 pages of the follow-up, "Freedom". Such an evocative and multilayered, if unimaginative, title, shows that Franzen is up for the inevitable Great American Novel considerations. It's a lot like its predecessor in being a panoramic view of an average middle-class American family, here the Berglunds, moving back and forward in time to show how they became what they are, and each generation's interactions with the next. Then there's all the environmental stuff: the father of the Berglund family, Walter, is a conservationist nut, albeit one who's kind of in bed with the coal industry for a while: cue much soul-searching.

Over a third of the book is told from Walter's wife Patty's point of view, but she's writing in third person, on her therapist's suggestion. This gives rise to the one glaring technical fault with the book: her voice is exactly the same as Franzen's own omniscient narrator's voice: arch, amusedly distant, and so forth. That means it's still fun to read, but it's easy to forget, and hard to accept, that it's supposed to be Patty writing. There's also comment on the Iraq war, 9/11, lots of anti-consumerist stuff. There's a secondary character called Jonathon, a very conscientious young man, vocally anti-war - I'm guessing his first name's not accidental.

Another qualm I had about "Freedom" is the dialogue. Franzen is very good at dialogue, his dialogue is very contemporary, he's up with all the latest slang, but he goes too far in this direction in this book, for me. The dialogue is too quirky, too many little nuances and plays on words, people don't talk like that.

Overall, this book is a bit self-consciously engaging in all of the hot-button problems of our times. It's slightly didactic, and will probably annoy persons of a right-wing persuasion, as it seems to have a political bias. It's witty, and smart, and well-written, sometimes funny, some great lines, and some endearing characters. Whether it's as great as its champions proclaim it, or as bad as the people who don't like it say, - well, it's probably somewhere in the middle, like everything. It's definitely worth reading. It'll give every reader something to chew on. Further than that, I really cannot say.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you loved "The Corrections" you'll love this, 6 Sep 2012
By 
Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Freedom (Paperback)
First things first, this is a novel, not a thriller. If you want to read something with an exciting plot, car chases, a mystery to solve, couples signing contracts to enjoy S&M sex, boys becoming wizards etc. then read no further - this is not the book for you. Like his superb novel "The Corrections", "Freedom" is a book about life, a story of people and their relationships, the ups and downs, and just like life it is often rather slow, sometimes a little dull, occasionally meandering.

It opens slowly, introducing the principal characters who we will follow through this long novel, and we read of their relationships, their friendships, their squabbles. It is a tough way to start in a sense, with a lot to take in, and by the end of this first section I was rather confused and underwhelmed, wondering if it was worth carrying on, but I persevered and it improves massively after this. As I said at the start, this is a long, slow story, covering a generation, and the writing is wonderful throughout.

If this is your first exposure to Frantzen's fiction I suggest you try "The Corrections" first, which is a little shorter and maybe a touch easier to read, but if you loved that book you'll love this one almost as much. The scope is breathtaking, and if you want to read a book that will take you a long time to read (it took me 3 days to read on holiday, which is a lot when you consider I was reading one book a day and starting another on each other day) but which you can savour, give this a go. It was the best thing I read on holiday this year. Fantastic stuff.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding work., 13 Oct 2011
By 
J. Lee "jambo" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Freedom (Paperback)
I'm staggered by some of the mixed reviews on here. Maybe it's as a result of the hype surrounding this novel and the fact that it's been critically acclaimed. But cast that aside and what you'll find is a truly excellent piece of work.

Franzen manages to split the novel up into manageable chunks on each character and you really do get a good sense of where they've come from and what shapes their current world view. The relationships they share with each other are realistic (for the most part) and you'll find yourself wanting to know just a little bit more about each of them. True, some of the bits about the Grandparents could have been omitted but that's a minor gripe.

I found it to be a beautiful book. It never feels like a chore despite it's length and I whizzed through it in a week. I seriously wanted to read more and more which is high praise indeed. I'd urge anyone to read it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligently downbeat and amusingly hard-nosed, 1 Nov 2012
This review is from: Freedom (Paperback)
Though hard work at first, as the characters are not especially appealing and one is bombarded with a huge amount of detailed information about their lives, persistence is rewarded. Gradually the outline of a fairly simple story becomes clear, centering on a liberal, East Coast, intelligent and middle-class family and in particular the dynamic between the neurotic wife Patty and her eager-beaver husband, Walter. The narrative perspective switches initially from that of Walter and his fraught life to that of his wife Patty and her self-obsessive concerns. The narrative voices of other people are also introduced, notably those of their children, Joey and Jessica - though Joey is far more convincing and others (such as Lalitha and Connie) are one-dimensional.

However, for me the book did not come alive until the willful rock musician, Richard Katz, enters the story. He is the lightening rod for the sense of spoilt boredom which encapsulates the entire family's lives. He epitomises the 'freedom' which Franzen implies we all tend to seek, though this is pitilessly shown to be self-indulgent and superficial. But at least things start to happen when Katz arrives on the scene. Unfortunately, according to Franzen, this shallow world is the dominant feature of modern America, except that most people are too ignorant to notice. Altruism, whether in the form of ecological action or the religious impulse, is merely another form of neediness. Love is a kind of desperate search for affirmation, security and/or pleasure. Everyone indulges their own emotional incontinence, unwilling to face up to a wider world beyond egotistical promptings.

While not exactly a way out or forwards, Franzen does imply that there is a better way to live, which is to accept things as they are - and thus Patty eventually works out how to patch things up with her husband, Walter. Franzen seems to be saying that the world is corrupt and that humans are feeble slaves of their baser instincts, but it is possible to get by without inflicting too much damage on others if you lower your expectations dramatically.

The bleak and thoroughly petty world which Franzen writes about is brilliantly portrayed, deadpan and with humour. The main two characters do somehow become endearing, because they are true to life even if within Franzen's unrelentingly grey version of what that entails. Closely observed factual details are piled up (sometimes too many of them) to create the environment in which his people spiritually crawl about.

Franzen writes very well - if rather knowingly - about people's motivations and how they are driven by anxieties which no one (at least in Franzen's universe) is able to transcend. He gives rein a little too much to the modern tendency to bulk up novels with a lot of information - another form of American excess? And business is of course another evil domain, where the strong prey on the weak: the sections dealing with Walter's outlandish ecological mission and Joey's failed project to supply spare parts to the US army in Iraq came across to me as crude and contrived. I finished the book glad that it was over but regretting that there were no more of Franzen's lyrical passages of internal dialogue - for example, about the high school dating worries of Joey or the guilt-ridden calculations of the would-be adulterer, Walter.

Franzen has a powerful ability to lift the carpet and to bring to life the very ordinary dirt in everyone's internal lives. I have not read other novels by this writer, but 'Freedom' is intelligently downbeat and refreshingly hard-nosed. The mundane lives of his characters remain gripping because they are so personal and convincingly concrete. Like so much else, it would benefit from a tough edit.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars it's extraordinarily good and I feel improved and changed by reading it, 8 Sep 2011
This review is from: Freedom (Paperback)
- if you enjoy searingly astute psychological portraits of other human beings, their entire families, their friends , their neighbours and their interlocking lives.
- If you enjoy a very generous smattering of blow-you-sideways in-their-entirety quotable sentences
it's very likely then that you will enjoy Freedom.

it's set during the Bush 43 era and is about the Berglund family and their two kids. But it delves into their pasts and I left it feeling that jonathan franzen is deeply intelligent and very astute about our very human frailties and foibles (however much we like to kid ourselves that we are so perfect and wise)
He manages to tell a very compelling story through the eyes of all the various participants with a rare skill in the use of language. He's also by turns very slyly witty and deeply humane in his view of how we conduct our lives.
This is novel-writing in a league of its own, whatever its faults and it has been vilified and attacked, it's wonderfully interesting, warm and just as importantly highly readable and enjoyable.

My own guess is that Franzen is an extremely hard working writer and he won't release a book into the world, until he has worked it and worked it to a thoroughly satisfying wholeness and unity.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wow!-cool!, 30 Oct 2010
By 
Maria O. Brien (cork, ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Freedom (Hardcover)
Having loved The Corrections I bought Freedom,the hype about typos in the first release aside! for the first few pages I wondered why I had bothered, I didn't fancy the in depth psycho character analysis, but as I was on holiday I had time to drive on and soon fell in love with this book. It offers alot:-a good yarn, interesting perspectives on life, aging,our imperfections as people,children and parents and sometimes just how fast it all seems to go!you dont have to be good to be part of life and you dont have to be bad either.Sometimes it takes so long to figure out who you are it can be too late to enjoy what you have!they say you change when you reach 21 and that was true for me, they say you change at 40 but I say your eyes start to open to who you actually are and can be and this book confirms this to me.well worth the read!!Super!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Grows, 18 Sep 2010
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Freedom (Hardcover)
"Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved." -- Matthew 24:11-13 (NKJV)

Freedom is the best new work of fiction I've read so far in 2010.

Freedom looks at the pain, responsibility, and potential involved in doing what appeals to you . . . regardless of the cost to anyone else. It's a worthwhile trip that manages to touch on a wide variety of ways that freedom pulls us in some directions and away from others. There's plenty of food for thought here, parceled out in bite-sized nuggets that you can chew on for weeks to come.

I was particularly impressed by the story's narrative structure. As the book opens, you see the Berglund family from the outside-in, the neighbors' view. Very quickly, one set of patterns are disrupted into a totally unexpected direction, drawing you irresistibly into wanting to know what happened.

In part the answer is that no one who isn't in a family really knows what goes on in a family. In another part, it's that people keep secrets from one another . . . particularly what they see as their own dark sides that they don't want others to know about.

From there, the story richly expands into four narratives, by narrators whose connections to others are rich and hard to grasp . . . even for themselves. It's only by overlaying the narratives that the whole picture begins to emerge. At times, you'll want to shake one character or another into doing something different, but of course you cannot do that with a fictional character any more easily than you can with most real persons.

Jonathan Franzen is a well-read author and a talented writer so his narrations dig deep into a variety of literary sources and methods to establish mood, color, imagery, emotion, psychology, physical sensations, and experiences that you'll find seem more than vaguely familiar . . . even when you cannot exactly place them. It's all subtly and humorously done, by an author who loves people and wants the best for them. There's a warm heart underneath all the Sturm und Drang that is what ultimately sets the book apart.

I was pleased to see that the book takes seriously such important subjects as marital love, friendship, sexual attraction, depression, sibling rivalries, parental mistakes, social responsibility, and serving one's fellow human. Rather than treating each topic as a single point of light, Mr. Franzen steps back to give you a globe's eye view from both without and from within. It's at once both terrifically subjective and wonderfully objective.

Be careful that you don't read any reviews that get into much of the story. You need to be surprised in places for this book to work its full magic on you.

Bravo, Mr. Franzen!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just read the book and not the reviews., 11 Oct 2011
This review is from: Freedom (Paperback)
I've just finished this book and had a look around at a few reviews on the net and couldn't help wondering if people tend to over analyse what is just a novel. This book made me feel a whole load better about living in my dysfunctional world. It normalised me in a way that all sorts of other things including shrinks, drugs and endless painful self analysis probably couldn't do. It lifted me out of a low patch and as much as I fell in love with the characters, by the end I was in love with myself again. The author is clever as there is a bit of Walter and Patty's frailties in all of us and Freedom allows us to admit it to ourselves and others with our head held high. It is a feel good book and a page turner that provokes plenty of thought.

I'm not sure why it attracts so many verbose and negative reviews. No amount of trips to a dictionary are going to convince me that a reviewer's command of the Engish language or intellect is greater than the authors. Great intellects use simplicity to evoke emotion. Franzen seems to have that nailed. It doesn't matter if it is about white upper middle class America, it's message (if there is supposed to be one) is universal.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Freedom
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
2.99
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews