While most people prefer to spend their summer holidays reading something light, I decided to tackle one of the larger books on my ‘to read’ pile: Purity by Jonathan Franzen.
Those familiar with my blog will know it is quite impossible for me to pick only one favourite book. I have my top 4, in no particular order, and then a bunch of other books worthy of being in the top 5 that can chop and change depending on my mood. But if someone was to force me to pick just one book as my favourite, it would be Franzen’s Freedom, so when Purity was released I snapped it up with glee and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to sink time into it. My week-long trip to Perth seemed like the perfect time to see whether Franzen still holds up for me. A long flight + time to relax = perfect reading conditions.
I must admit I was a bit sceptical before I began. When adding the book to my list on Goodreads, I noticed that a lot of people seemed to dislike the book. Careful not to read any spoilers, the main complaint I saw was that nothing happens for 400 pages. Oh dear, I thought. Maybe my Franzen anticipation (what I also call my Franzen fever) was unwarranted. But it seems I did not agree with the Goodreads masses, not for the first time.
I find it difficult to describe a Franzen book because there are so many different threads. The key character here is Purity (who goes by the name Pip), a young woman with a large student loan debt. Her story is interspersed with those of her highly-strung single mother, a Julian Assange type character who she hopes will help her find her father, and her new boss and the boss’s girlfriend. The book is divided into sections that progress the story based on each of these characters, sometimes by giving us a view into their past and sometimes staying in the present. Discussing anything more about the plot is too difficult because of the intricate connections between the characters, and I don’t want to accidentally give anything away.
I guess it’s because the story jumps around in time and jumps between characters that the reviews I read weren’t satisfied with the pace of the story, but I actually didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, one of the things I love about Franzen’s writing in general is the richness he gives to his characters. My review of Freedom mentions that I missed the characters once the book ended, and although the same has not occurred here (frankly, because I disliked most of them) I was happy with the pace of the story because I enjoyed getting to know more about these people and how they ended up being the people they were (plus I got to read about lots of sexy times, so that was fun!). I didn’t find the journey boring at all, and instead didn’t want to stop reading, which resulted in several late nights.
I’m not sure if you need to be a Franzen fan to appreciate Purity, but I personally know I would have enjoyed it even if I’d never read one of his novels before.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen: 4 out of 5 stars.