The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen, 2001)

The Corrections

The Corrections


The Corrections has sat on my bookshelf for five or six years now, and even five years ago it was a while since it had been the New Great American Novel.




The prospect of a trip to Mauritius in not-quite-swimming weather made me determined to read one of the fattest, most promising novels on my shelf, one I’d been Intending to Get To  for a Long Time, and The Corrections fit the bill nicely.

For those, like me, who have been living under a rock (until I actually got to the land of sea and sun I hadn’t so much as read the blurb on the back cover, having picked this up on reputation alone) this is the story of Enid and her family.

Enid and Alfred’s kids are grown up and far-flung from their Midwest family home. The family’s decidedly not close-knit, but as Parkinson’s disintegrates the man who was once Alfred, Enid embarks on a mission to bring everyone together for One Last Family Christmas.

I get up to here on the blurb before getting a sinking feeling, having fresh knowledge of how a family Christmas, once gone, won’t ever be the same again. I seem to have a positive talent for choosing books and movies that have barbs like this in the tail these days, catching me unawares and prompting spontaneous fits of eye leakage.

But I decided to soldier on and by golly, I’m glad I did.

This funny, irritating, absorbing book has a crack at dissecting all the human experiences closest to the bone – family, marriage, anger, ritual and the way our brains make sense of it all.

With a sprawling, segueing structure and suspended realities sewn into the narrative – including, but not limited to, Alfred’s flights of demented fancy – the story races towards the crucial Yuletide.

I didn’t quite finish it in Mauritius – it’s a fat one – but though progress slowed once I was back home, it was not because of a dull moment. This book doesn’t have any dull moments.

For a novel that is all about the ending it is constantly building towards, there is quite a bit riding on how things turn out.

Thankfully, this ending was not sentimental or simple or soft – it was everything its characters and readers warranted and deserved.

I felt unsettled but deeply satisfied by it, and had to sit for those long, reverberating moments you experience at the end of a really good read.

And I can pretty much guarantee that just about anyone with a skerrick of lit-love would too.

On this note, lit-lovers, pick up a copy of Franzen’s essays, How to be Alone – an exquisitely written collection of illuminating ideas. 

Turbo blog

Presenting my guide to what I’ve been consuming recently. You’ll be happy to know I’m not including foodstuffs. I don’t want anyone to know these. 

  • Parrot and Olivier in America (Peter Carey, 2009)

Sadly, the picture of the cover is not that of the incredibly DROOLINGLY HANDSOME BLACK LEATHER-BOUND WITH STAMPED TITLE LIMITED EDITION SIGNED BY AUTHOR WITH RED RIBBON BOOKMARK copy that I have been reading. But I can’t really take a photo that will showcase its beauty.

I haven’t finished this yet. But as his novels get bigger and weirder, the more I love them. Even if you start a Peter Carey book thinking “oh, this is set in a place/time/culture that I know” you will soon leave your own realities far, far behind, scrabbling for footholds in Carey’s completely unique universe. No two books are the same, except for his reliably amazing writing, and – so far – this one has not disappointed. It’s talked about By Jennifer Byrne and the team on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club Christmas Special, 5/12/10. Watch the video here:

  • SAS: The Search for Warriors. Two-Part Documentary: Military History, 2010 

For the first time in 25 years the SAS has allowed documentary photography. The resulting two-hour-ish experience spread over two episodes is unrelenting, adrenaline-filled, clear-your-schedule viewing and should not be missed. Whether you’re a military history devotee or absolutely not, you have my personal guarantee that you will be fascinated by every solitary minute of this deeply impressive and thought-provoking doco. Watch it here:

  • Independence Day. Movie: Science Fiction/Action, 1996

Once again, the L.A.P.D. is asking Los Angelenos not to fire their guns at the visitor spacecraft. You may inadvertently trigger an interstellar war.

You can’t go wrong with this movie. You need to watch this intermittently throughout the whole of your adult life to retain top mental functioning and psychological health. An admirable choice for your Boxing Day stupors, now and in the future.