Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

It is rare that I dislike a book that is essentially well-written, and especially one that is praised and adored by many. But I’ve found one: Freedom, the new novel by award-winning author Jonathan Franzen.

I might not have extremely literary tastes when it comes to the books I read, but I do read “good” books sometimes – and enjoy them. I’ve read all the hype about the author, and the book. The glowing reviews. The TIME magazine cover article. About the amazement that it recently wasn’t selected for the short-list of the National Book Awards. I was not amazed at all that it wasn’t short-listed, but I was puzzled about why people liked it so much.

I gave it two stars (which is an “it’s okay”) on Goodreads. I would have given it a one star (i.e. “didn’t like it”), but Jonathan Franzen does write well when he’s not lecturing about the various issues that his characters are obsessed about. This means that I join the approximately 9% of people on Goodreads who felt the same way. As the average rating on the site is 3.91 (out of 5 based on 4141 ratings) at the time of writing this post, we’re clearly in the minority. Most people either found it “amazing” or “really liked it”.

What I didn’t like about it was that I could not identify or empathize with any of the characters in the book. Just when I was starting to care about a character, they went off and did or said something that put me right off again. I don’t need the perfect heroes of some popular fiction, but I like the main characters to at least be likeable.  In my real life there are a few people I feel indifferent towards, and a couple I even actively dislike. However, even these people have some good qualities that I find admirable, even if it doesn’t endear them to me.

Goodreads ratings for "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen (2010.11.11)


In a review which appeared in The Guardian, the reviewer mentions that while the characters in The Corrections (Franzen’s previous novel) were loosely based on people Franzen knew, in Freedom “all the characters are made up”. Maybe that is why they didn’t seem real to me?!

I read somewhere that Freedom is “less dark” than Franzen’s award-winning The Corrections. So maybe I’ll be giving The Corrections (which I haven’t got around to reading) a miss. Unless somebody can persuade me otherwise.

So what do YOU think? Did you like the book? Do you believe (as TIME magazine has put on their cover) that Jonathan Franzen is a “great American novelist”?

© 2010 Notes from Africa. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Notes from Africa ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tags: ,

Categories: Books/Book Reviews


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

4 Comments on “Freedom by Jonathan Franzen”

  1. November 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    I don’t know his work at all, so I can’t comment. But I get frustrated when I can’t connect with characters in a book. I can imagine that making up the characters in Freedom really made them one-dimensional.

    • November 12, 2010 at 5:16 am #

      I guess all fictional characters are “made up”, but I found especially his female characters didn’t seem realistic.

      As I said in my post, the book is well-written and thought-provoking, but it didn’t draw me in.

  2. Elizabeth
    November 11, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    No one really cares what you think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: