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From Wooden to Plastic

James Meek: Jonathan Franzen

23 September 2015
by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 563 pp., £20, September 2015, 978 0 00 753276 6
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... JonathanFranzen​ has been compared to 19th-century greats: to Tolstoy, to Dickens. In respect of his best and most successful book, The Corrections, the praise carries a false hint of the retrograde, of revival of ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Blurbs and puffs

20 July 2006
... the names of writers, the cover of The Night Watch reminds you that Waters is the ‘bestselling author of Fingersmith’. But sometimes a writer’s own work just isn’t enough: the proof copy of Jonathan Raban’s Surveillance, due from Picador in September, carries an assurance that the novel will appeal to readers of JonathanFranzen and Ian McEwan. Wow. McEwan’s name has become something of a ...

Ink-Dot Eyes

Wyatt Mason: Jonathan Franzen

2 August 2007
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Harper Perennial, 195 pp., £8.99, July 2007, 978 0 00 723425 7
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... service during the Vietnam War, In Pharaoh’s Army: ‘Isn’t there, in the very act of confession, an obscene self-congratulation for the virtue required to see your mistake and own up to it?’ JonathanFranzen’s memoir, The Discomfort Zone, is an object lesson in the management of such obscenity. The book begins with a loss. After lengthy treatment for colon cancer, his widowed mother, Irene, has ...

So long, Lalitha

James Lever: Franzen’s Soap Opera

7 October 2010
by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 562 pp., £20, September 2010, 978 0 00 726975 4
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... JonathanFranzen has in the past been a writer who has flourished in sequences and streaks, in set-pieces and sections, the kinds of book of which you could ask: ‘What are your favourite tracks?’ The Corrections ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Hatchet Jobs

11 September 2003
... that doesn’t – an exercise of numbing pointlessness. Barely a week goes by without a work of fiction arriving at the LRB on the cover of which it is proudly emblazoned that, in the opinion of JonathanFranzen (for example), this book marks the arrival of a remarkable/distinctive/unique/major new voice. Most of them don’t. The praise of a critic who doles out only praise is worth less than the ...

Well, duh

Dale Peck

18 July 1996
Infinite Jest 
by David Foster Wallace.
Little, Brown, 1079 pp., £17.99, July 1996, 0 316 92004 5
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... Dunces is a book nearly as bloated as its protagonist; Don DeLillo’s social, um, satires owe more than a little to Pynchon’s work; and in a recent essay in Harper’s magazine the young novelist JonathanFranzen declares Pynchon a personal hero. David Foster Wallace moves beyond admiration to adulation – if not, to put it more plainly, outright imitation. It is, in fact, a virtuoso performance that ...

Everything Must Go!

Andrew O’Hagan: American Beauties

13 December 2001
The Corrections 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 568 pp., £17.99, November 2001, 1 84115 672 8
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Ghost World 
directed by Terry Zwigoff.
August 2001
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directed by Todd Solondz.
November 2001
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... you notice how a single, powerful question pertains: what now? This is not a consequence of 11 September: some would argue, and might be right to argue, that 11 September was a consequence of this. JonathanFranzen’s new novel is a concatenation of dead afternoons, the kinds of afternoon that will constitute the life, or lives, of a Midwestern family, the Lamberts, who live in times not unadjacent to ...

No one hates him more

Joshua Cohen: Franzen​ on Kraus

7 November 2013
The Kraus Project 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 318 pp., £18.99, October 2013, 978 0 00 751743 5
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... What’s the German for a writer who resurrects a writer who would have hated him? Until a word is coined, I’m going to go with ‘Franzen’ – after the most famous American novelist of the moment, whose commercial and critical success has brought him, if his public statements are any indication, nothing but misery. His new book, The ...

So-so Skinny Latte

James Francken: Giles Foden’s Zanzibar

19 September 2002
by Giles Foden.
Faber, 389 pp., £12.99, September 2002, 0 571 20512 7
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... 11 September could change the direction of contemporary fiction soon had a facer. The Corrections, published a week before the terrorist attacks, became a runaway bestseller, and the case against JonathanFranzen and his kind of big social novel did not look so watertight. There may be something too wised-up about these novels, but interest in large-scale fiction has not fallen off after the attacks ...

No Cleaning, No Cooking

Richard Beck: Nell Zink

15 July 2015
‘The Wallcreeper’ and ‘Mislaid’ 
by Nell Zink.
Fourth Estate, 168 pp. and 288 pp., £20, June 2015, 978 0 00 813960 5
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... from matrimony when Stephen dies of a heart attack from which Tiffany mostly does not attempt to draw deeper meaning. Zink reportedly wrote The Wallcreeper in three weeks, for the amusement of JonathanFranzen, with whom she had struck up a strange, happy email correspondence after writing to him to recommend the work of a German ornithologist. It soon emerged that she had been writing for years ...


Christopher Beha: Jeffrey Eugenides

6 October 2011
The Marriage Plot 
by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Fourth Estate, 406 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 00 744129 7
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... of a neoconservative movement that views literary experimentation as the God That Failed. Raised on the modernist and postmodernist masters, these writers – among them Eugenides’s contemporary JonathanFranzen and a younger cohort that includes Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers – have come to believe that too much was lost – in moral and emotional engagement, in readership – when realism was thrown ...

Who’s under the desk?

Siddhartha Deb: James Lasdun’s Novel

7 March 2002
The Horned Man 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 195 pp., £10.99, February 2002, 0 224 06217 4
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... political correctness, post-structuralist theory and tenure difficulties has been explored with varying degrees of insight by writers as different as Francine Prose, Philip Roth, James Hynes and even JonathanFranzen in the opening pages of The Corrections. The Horned Man, however, is concerned with the campus only up to a point: its world is not self-enclosed, and can hardly be so, set as the college is ...


Benjamin Markovits: Mark Costello

5 August 2004
Big If 
by Mark Costello.
Atlantic, 315 pp., £10.99, February 2004, 9781843542179
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... these assumptions don’t take into account man’s moral nature, looks increasingly naive, or wilfully deluded. A moral view of humanity simply offers less accurate models for predicting behaviour. JonathanFranzen has praised the book for staking out ‘territory which, until his arrival, you would never have guessed it was vital to read about’. Orwell wrote that ‘Dickens sees human beings with the ...

Everybody knows

Christina Gombar: Kate Jennings

22 August 2002
Moral Hazard 
by Kate Jennings.
Fourth Estate, 180 pp., £10, April 2002, 1 84115 737 6
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... gathers research instead of writing out of direct experience. Wolfe sometimes piles up too many facts, dwelling distractingly on the lifestyles of the rich at the expense of their inner life. JonathanFranzen does something similar in The Corrections, where the thoughts of an investment banker are rendered in the voice of a disaffected New York fiction writer. Jennings, on the other hand, actually ...


Theo Tait: Tom Wolfe’s Bloody Awful Novel

6 January 2005
I am Charlotte Simmons 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 676 pp., £20, November 2004, 0 224 07486 5
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... to ‘sweep the arts in America, making many prestigious artists … appear effete and irrelevant’. Over the years, a lot of these effete and irrelevant artists – John Updike, Norman Mailer, JonathanFranzen – have launched tirades against him. The most concise comes from John Irving, commenting red-faced and furious on live TV: ‘Wolfe’s problem is, he can’t bleeping write! He’s not a ...

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