READING – Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

READING – Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I thought I ought to try reading something contemporary so here is what I came up with. I only came across Jonathan Franzen 3 weeks or so ago when reading an article in the Observer and one of the things that drew me to him was his anguish when writing, he claimed that when it came to writing a new book it was difficult as it was as though he was attempting it for the first time. I do hope the book is as good as it’s supposed to be, I’m not up for any disappointing literature at the moment, or maybe that’s exactly what I need as I plod along with my own writing.

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  1. I have never read any Jonathan Franzen except one short story in the New Yorker (or ratther on their website) –Agreeable. It is difficult to explain what I thought of it. I enjoyed reading it and was glad I did. But … I don't know. I didn't *love* it. I think perhaps it is the way he writes– for me to really fall in love with a book, or a short story, or a poem, there has to be something about the quality of the writing itself. It has to hit me, touch me, move me. Make me pause a moment and just think 'I know exactly what you mean'. It has to touch me in such a way that it draws something out of my own thoughts and experiences which contributes to my understanding of what the author meant, so that it somehow feels a little bit real to me, in that moment, curled up in my chair or perched on the windowsill or whereever I may be.

    And Franzen didn't do that, for me, so I've not picked up anything else since.

    But I will be glad to hear what you think.

    Have you read Doris Lessing's the Golden Notebook? I read it once over the summer and am now enjoying the audiobook read by Juliet Stephenson very, very much. I think maybe you'd enjoy the way she writes, and writes about London.

    Am going to copy and paste (…from digital edition I just found online – with discussions &c from Naomi Alderman and other writers, page by page – amazing and unique resource!!)… a passage i especially loved:

    This afternoon it was easy to talk, as if the barrier between them had been silently dissolved in the night. They left the ugly trailing fringes of London behind, sunlight lay about them, and Ella’s spirits rose so sharply that she felt intoxicated. Besides, she knew that this man would be her lover, she knew it from the pleasure his voice gave her, and she was full of a secret delight. His glances at her now were smiling, almost indulgent, and like Julia he remarked: ‘You look very pleased with yourself.’ ‘Yes, it’s getting out of London.’ ‘You hate it so much?’ ‘Oh, no, I like it, I mean, I like the way I live in it. But I hate — this.’ And she pointed out of the window. The hedges and trees had again been swallowed by a small village. Nothing left here of the old England, it was new and ugly. They drove through the main shopping street, and the names on the shops were the same as they had driven past repeatedly, all the way out of London.

  2. ‘Well, obviously, it’s so ugly.’ He was looking curiously into her face. After a while he remarked: ‘People live in it.’ She shrugged. ‘Do you hate them as well?’ Ella felt resentful: it occurred to her that for years, anyone she was likely to meet would have understood without explanation why she hated ‘all this’; and to ask her if she ‘hated them as well’, meaning ordinary people, was off the point. Yet after thinking it over, she said, defiant: ‘In a way, yes. I hate what they put up with. It ought to be swept away — all of it.’ And she made a wide sweeping movement with her hand, brushing away the great dark weight of London, and the thousand ugly towns, and the myriad small cramped lives of England.
    ‘But it’s not going to be, you know,’ he said, with a small smiling obstinacy. ‘It’s going to go on — and there’ll be more chain shops, and television aerials, and respectable people. That’s what you mean, isn’t it?’
    ‘Of course. But you just accept it. Why do you take it all for granted?’
    ‘It’s the time we live in. And things are better than they were.’
    ‘Better!’ she exclaimed, involuntarily, but checked herself. For she understood she was setting against the word better a personal vision that dated from her stay in hospital, a vision of some dark, impersonal destructive force that worked at the roots of life and that expressed itself in war and cruelty and violence. Which had nothing to do with what they argued. ‘You mean,’ she said, ‘better in the sense of no unemployment and no one being hungry?’
    ‘Strangely enough, yes, that’s what I do mean.’ He said it in such a way that it put a barrier between them — he was from the working-people, and she was not, and he was of the initiated. So she kept silence until he insisted: ‘Things are much better, much much better. How can you not see it? I remember …’ And he stopped — this time, not because (as Ella put it) he was ‘bullying’ her, from superior knowledge, but from the painfulness of what he remembered.
    So she tried again: ‘I can’t understand how anyone can see what’s happening to this country and not hate it. On the surface everything’s fine — all quiet and tame and surburban. But underneath it’s poisonous. It’s full of hatred and envy and people being lonely.’

    I love this book like I've not loved many others. I hope you might read it one day if you haven't already.

  3. I agree with being moved, I'm not being moved yet! But I'll keep going. I do have the Golden Notebook, I started reading it a few years ago and became distracted, but I keep meaning to return to it, maybe after Franzen. Have you watched her hour long interview on youtube, I can't find it again bit it was in her kitchen, I love her work ethic and outlook as a writer, she's very inspiring.

    Thank you for thinking about me and my reading. I just finished Howards End and thought it splendid, that certainly moved me, read it if you haven't, but something tells me you already have.

  4. Actually I have not read it! I've actually only read a room with a view, by him. Shameful, and soon to be amended. Looking forward to it already!

    I will look up the Doris Lessing speech – definitely. I have seen a little clip of her getting out of a taxi and being asked to give her reaction to the fact she'd won the Nobel prize, and her being brilliantly grumpy about it.

    I adore her words. You must, must read the Golden Notebook. It is a bit heavy going at times but rich and inspiring and has so much to say about writing and writers, and what it means to be a woman. It's one of the most perfectly written novels I've ever come across, and there's no hint of the words having being forced. I felt Franzen came across a little forced at times.

    Enjoy your reading, and your writing.

  5. Sorted indeed! This sort of exchange pleases me, genuinely and muchly. Shall look forward to some more exchanging when we have each read. Happy reading to you too!

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