mtvessel: (Default)
Aug 2007
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen - Fourth Estate, 2002
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This is one of those books where you get the impression that the reviewers on the back were reading an entirely different text from the one that you are. If this is the “first great American novel of the twenty-first century”, as one of the more hyperbolic of them put it, then God help the American novel. Which is not to say that it is completely devoid of merit: the prose is rich and sinuous and its observations of daily life are strikingly original. However, whilst appreciative of good writing, I read books mostly for the characters and the plot, and in this one the former are uniformly unsympathetic and the latter is absurd. In fact, it reminds me most of my brief channel-hopping glimpses of Eastenders, but without the occasional leavening humour of that programme.

Ah, humour. It is, of course, supposed to be funny - a number of the reviews make reference to the fact - but I read it stony-faced throughout. This is probably because it is best described as a black comedy, which for me is a synonym for “not funny”. The modus operandi of a black comedy is to introduce unlikeable protagonists and then have bad things happen to them; their unlikeability gives us permission to find these events amusing rather than tragic. In my case, however, this does not work. My response when people are unpleasant (in books as in real life) is to reach for the emotional off-switch and unless what subsequently happens to them is a particularly fine example of poetic justice, I simply don’t care enough to laugh. So this book wasn’t really for me.
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