I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, for lack of opportunity rather than lack of will. However, the loud critical response has not escaped me. How could it? The Corrections and Freedom have both been crowned with the thorns of being a ‘Great American Novel’; and he is the celebrated author of the moment, gracing the cover of Time Magazine and making regular though unseen appearances in the latest series of Gossip Girl no less.
Critics are unanimous: Freedom is ‘very good in parts’ – a green-eyed euphemism for 'bloody brilliant'. But when it comes to Franzen himself, the man divides the sexes in America, vehemently so.
Mild in her tone, The Times' Erica Wagner (£) is the latest to concede:
‘The cover of Time magazine? Really? In principle I suppose that I’m all for novelists being on the cover of magazines. But Franzen as the first living author there? Frankly, I’m stumped. Jeanette Winterson, writing in these pages last week about Antonio Tabucci’s novel Pereira Maintains, remarked that by her lights that novel had no substantial women characters, adding wryly: “No doubt it is impolite of me to mention it.” With a similar lack of manners I feel moved — now that I’ve actually got my nose between the covers of Freedom — to remark, regarding authors on the cover of Time magazine: no Toni Morrison, then? No Marilynne Robinson? We’re talking about The Great American Novelist, here, right? Americans (I know this because I am one) like to have a GAN on the plinth — and it is funny, don’t you think, how they always tend to be chaps? I’m only saying. Just giving this an airing. Mostly this kind of stuff doesn’t bother me. But sometimes, I admit, it does.'
In Britain, the gender gap is starker still: with the exception of Wagner, no woman seems to have yet commented on the living GAN’s latest offering.