The word that comes to mind when thinking about Purity is well-crafted. What definitely not comes to mind is captivating, fascinating. There was hardly any moment I felt the urge to read on. On the contrary there were too many moments I felt like I was just dragging on. It’s not that I suffered whilst reading 540 pages of Purity but neither did I thoroughly enjoy myself. Franzen’s craftmanship is not to be blamed. The novel is well-constructed, well written and works steadily and consistently to its apotheosis, which is rather funny, finally slightly captivating and reflecting the development of main character Purity aka Pip. She is the only character going through said development. All others are mere stereotypes of disturbed, mentally deficient or downright crazy people. I sometimes wondered whether the cover of Purity had accidentally been put on an Oliver Sachs publication. The consequence of this multitude of the mentally deficient is that it distracts from the serious matters Franzen talks about in his novel: the effect of extreme wealth on a person, growing up in a one parent family or dictatorship, the right to gain and distribute information (=knowledge). One of the main characters competes with Assange in being the best distributor of information and truth, his Sunshine Organisation reveals secrets all the time. It could be fascinating that it’s leader carries a terrible secret himself if it not were for the fact that he is obviously a ruthless narcistic psychopath addicted to sex with too young girls. His organisation is turned into the mere means to describe his madness. It made me wonder what Franzen was trying to achieve? Did he intend to write a novel about dysfunctional people or did he want to write about social outrage. If the latter, it would probably have worked better if Purity’s characters had been more or less normal.
A novel about mad and dysfunctional people can be captivating and fascinating. Franzen unfortunately does not manage to make his characters captivating. They are mostly annoying. Franzen’s choice to make the chapters in Purity go and on and on does not help. It slows down the novel, making it drag on. It is not a good sign that I kept on checking how many pages were still left and when I would be given some breathing space by a single white line.
Purity is well-written and structured, nevertheless it did not make for a novel I enjoyed.