Book Reviews

Book Review: Commonwealth

“Isn’t that what everyone wants, just for a moment to be unencumbered?”

As I mentioned in my August Favorites blog post, I recently finished reading Ann Patchett‘s novel Commonwealth, and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Today I am going to give you all a glance at what the story is about, and what I liked about it.

In a nutshell, Commonwealth is the story of an unconventional blended family, including six step siblings who form a lasting bond with each other through shared summer vacations spent at their parents and step parents’ homes, and their shared resentment towards their often negligent parents. For a book that follows the lives of so many characters (the six children, four parents, and other family members and significant others that appear throughout the story), each character is surprisingly well-developed. The more you read, the more you get to know each of these people and understand who they are and where they’ve been.

The story spans a total of five decades of time, jumping between the present and the past with each chapter, sometimes jumping within a single chapter. For some, these jumps in time may be a bit too much. I will admit I was confused at times, and it was difficult to keep each character and storyline straight in my mind. (“Wait, whose parent is this again? Who is this person married to?”) However, for me this made the story more interesting, and I enjoyed the challenge of keeping track of everything in my head. It was also fun to read about the characters as children, and then find out where their life went as an adult.

Commonwealth really picks up pace when one of the daughters, Franny, begins an affair with a well-known author, and tells him the stories from her childhood, which he proceeds to use as the inspiration for his newest bestselling novel which he names “Commonwealth.” Though he always claims the story is not based on Franny’s life, it’s clear it is, and the book has a negative impact on her siblings, mainly her youngest step brother, Albie, who learns painful things about his childhood through reading the novel.

Overall I thought Patchett’s book was a sharp and realistic portrayal of family ties and the struggles people face throughout life. Though the story is fairly realistic, it still has the level of drama and slight exaggeration needed to make an enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong character development and intriguing life stories, as well as books that span multiple decades of time.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or any of Ann Patchett’s other novels. If not, what was the last book you read and loved?

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