Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett’s eagerly awaited new novel, is the story of a two interconnected families, the Cousins and the Keatings, told over fifty odd years, starting out with a christening party in 1964.

Bert Cousins turns up at little Franny Keating's party with a bottle of gin and falls for Franny’s mother, who is strikingly beautiful. Patchett lovingly describes the interactions of those present at the party, with a memorable scene surrounding the making of gin cocktails and the squeezing of endless oranges. We’re definitely in L.A.

When Bert marries Beverly, Franny’s mother, two groups of children find themselves thrown together every summer: Bert’s four kids and Beverly’s two. The children don’t immediately hit it off, but when Caroline shows them all how to break into a car, and Cal finds a gun in his father’s glove compartment, tension and daring crank up a notch.

The story builds to one terrible tragedy, but the children are so good at secrets and subterfuge, the reader doesn’t find out what really happened for some time afterwards. These events later become a career saver for Leon Posen, the aging, hard-drinking author that Franny admires, who is desperate for inspiration.

Mostly, though, this is a novel about family relationships; about the things that push people together and pull them apart; about loyalty and forgiveness and how it all impacts on the ebb and flow of life. These are terrific characters, the children are interesting because of the secrets they harbour, the burden of guilt they carry and the messy lives of their parents. Just how they get over all that creates a terrific read with plenty to mull over for quite a while afterwards.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Commonwealth

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