Jonathan Franzen’s new novel ‘Freedom’ has been causing a stir among reviewers — one Guardian Books blogger is already calling it the novel of the century.
Time magazine a couple of weeks ago gave Franzen the honour of being on its cover — something achieved by very few authors and was the magazine’s gesture towards placing him in the canon of ‘The Great American Novelists’.
The accompanying article was, compared to most of these profile pieces, long and thoughtful and had some comment on where novel writing might be heading in the future:
‘Early readers ofÂ Freedom, including this one, have found that the book has an addictive quality, the kind one usually associates with mysteries or thrillers. This isn’t by accident. Franzen is very conscious that people are freer than ever â€” that word again â€” to spend their time and attention being entertained by things that aren’t books. That awareness has changed the way he writes.’
Franzen, suggests the profile’s author, Levi Grossman, argues that this need to work to engage harder with the reader by implication means that to avoid becoming an obsolete and arcane art form the novel needs to avoid intellectualÂ novelty-seeking and boundary stretching. Perhaps the self-indulgent aspect of literary fiction might finally be exhausted:
‘A lot of literary fiction strikes a bargain with the reader: you suck up a certain amount of difficulty, of resistance and interpretive work and even boredom, and then you get the payoff. This arrangement, which feels necessary and permanent to us, is primarily a creation of the 20th century.Â Freedom works on something more akin to a 19th century model, like Dickens or Tolstoy: characters you care about, a story that hooks you. Franzen has given up trying to impress with his scintillating prose (which he admits he was still doing inÂ The Corrections). “It seems all the more imperative, nowadays, to fashion books that are compelling, because there is so much more distraction they have to resist,” he says. “To me, now, to do something new is not to develop a form for the novel that has never been seen on earth before. It means to try to come to terms as a person and a citizen with what’s happening in the world now and to do it in some comprehensible, coherent way.”‘