Book Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom, Franzen’s newest book is all the rage. My book shop had a special offer on his earlier book The Corrections (2001), and as I’m always in for a bargain, I bought that with the thought that I’d buy Freedom if this book was any good.

I’m afraid to say, I won’t buy or borrow Freedom just yet. I have enough other books to read, and The Corrections didn’t stand out as a brillliant read. In fact, I found it just so-so.

The Corrections: What it is about

The Corrections describes (mainly) one year in the life of one family (working up from earlier in the year towards Christmas). There is Alfred Lambert, in his seventies, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He’s having hallucinations that his wife Enid ascribes to the medication he takes.

They have three children who long left home. Chip is the youngest and while he made a good start in life, things look less promising by the time we meet him. His girlfriend, Julia, is married to an Lithuanian politician. Gary, the second son, is married with three children. His life seems in order, but he can’t convince his wife to spend Christmas at his parent’s house, which is their greatest wish. Finally, Denise is a chef who, like Chip, has seen better times.

At Christmas, Enid hopes she will be able to have all her children back in her house, maybe for the last time. But will her dream come true?

The story about this dysfunctional family (or maybe they’re just independent people leading their own life?), is told from the perspective of the different member alternately. There are a lot of flashbacks to better times.

The Corrections: What I thought

I found the book somewhat depressing. For some time, whilst I had not read the chapters from some of the characters’ perspectives yet, all looked well. As soon as I finally read their story, it turned out that things weren’t all that well for them.

That was also one of the strengths of the book: in the eyes of the other characters someone would look to be doing reasonably well, but when we got to know the character from up close, things looked rather differently.

Although a lot of things happen in the book (a lot of it as flashback) I got bored with the book.  At about the half-way point, I was contemplating abandoning the book. But considering how well many people think about this writer, I decided to continue after all, even if it was a bit of a struggle.

I did enjoy reading the final quarter of the book, possibly because the story was working towards an end and there were fewer flashbacks. Yes, I wasn’t keen on the flashbacks. Usually, I’m happy with flashbacks, getting the background of the main character. However, in this case, we had five main characters with their “current” life as well as flashbacks to various points in their earlier life, and this was too much information for me.

For me, taking a guess here, I would have preferred the story from just one or two of the family members, not all of them.

Rating: 3/5

I got this book: from my local book shop

I read this in: Dutch, translated from English, the original language

Number of pages: 504

First published: 2001

Genre: contemporary fiction, literary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

34 Responses to Book Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

  1. Uh-oh. The Corrections is part of my personal 2008 ‘Best Foreign Books‘ reading challenge (that got extended into 2011 ;)) and one of the last books I actually need to read. But I’ve been dreading the chunkster and you’re not making it easier! LOL

    If you ever feel like reading Freedom; we’ve got a copy you can borrow!

    • Leeswammes says:

      What did you think of Freedom, Gnoe? I’m not really very tempted to read it now. Do you recommend it?

      A 2008 challenge extended into 2011? Isn’t it time to write that one off? 🙂

      • Haven’t read Freedom yet. Mr Gnoe did but it took some time (which is never a good sign) and he wasn’t too excited about it. Thus, no recommendation. 😉

        About my 2008-2011 challenge: reading at least one of the books each year (like Grapes of Wrath, which turned out the best read of 2009) and I almost always like the books, so… Last year I read Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea which I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on either! 🙂 I just stopped feeling guilty about it — it should be fun!

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  3. Teresa says:

    I read this when it was fairly new and didn’t think much of it either. I didn’t hate it exactly, but the few things I did like got old after a while. Most people I know who’ve read Freedom have said it’s not all that different. Even those who’ve loved Freedom have told me that if I didn’t like The Corrections, I shouldn’t bother.

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  5. Joanna says:

    I was given Freedom as a birthday present and it sounds similar to the Corrections – dysfunctional family etc. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks as I think they’re distracting but I’ll see what I think and then evaluate whether to read Corrections or not. Thanks Judith!

  6. Stephanie says:

    This sounds exactly like the kind of novel I enjoy — it’s a shame it didn’t hold your interest. Your hunch is probably right. It might have been better if it had focused on fewer characters in more depth.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I’m glad you’re interested in the book, Stephanie. Everyone has different tastes and there must be lots of people out there that actually liked this book. Maybe it’s one for your TBR!

  7. I would have abandoned this too but I had to finish it for a course, so I slogged through to the end. It was just okay for me & we share a lot of the same thoughts on it. I decided to give Freedom a try but just felt too many of the same kinds of feelings about it to continue.

  8. Nadine Nys says:

    I felt the same about The Corrections when I read it, Judith, and so I am not anxious either to read Freedom. But with all the hype surrounding this title I began to doubt my decission. Now that I’ve read your review, I know I am not alone in not liking Franzen’s style. Thank you!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, I’m so happy to know there are more people not overawed with The Corrections. Yes, I think I got a bit carried away by the hype as well, thinking I’d had to read Freedom. But of course I don’t have to!

  9. Trisha says:

    I have this on the TBR shelf, but I haven’t had the energy to pick it up yet. I may just let in languish there for awhile more.

  10. Cindy says:

    I soldiered through the book, but agree with your rating.

  11. RFW says:

    I tried reading Corrections but could not get through it – just too depressing. But I really liked Freedom – don’t give up on reading that one.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Sorry, RFW, too many people have advised me to give up on Freedom. I won’t be reading it any time soon. There still is hope though, since you didn’t finish The Corrections. At least I made it through to the end.

  12. Robyn says:

    Thanks for hopping by. I’m subscribing to your feed. Psycholinguistics sounds very cool. I didn’t much like The Corrections either, though I know everyone raved about it. I found it a bit depressing too, and just not that interesting.

  13. Interesting. I’ll probably still read it eventually but maybe I won’t rush out to buy it next pay day!

  14. Chinoiseries says:

    Uh-oh. I’m getting the feeling that I’d better not pick up this book. I had contemplated buying it as well, but first need to start on Freedom, which is still sitting on the shelf. But apparently, according to (Mr) Gnoe, it’s not a terrific read either? Hm :/
    I really dislike an overload of characters and character development too, will need to think about bothering to read this…

  15. Suzanne says:

    Well, I’ve tried both The Corrections and Freedom and couldn’t get through either of them. I’m not sure if it is me or Jonathan Franzen. I know it is probably his point, but his novels seem so bleak and boring.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Suzanne, I think it’s just that some authors are for some people and other, for others! I don’t feel like trying Jonathan Franzen again any time soon. You know, there are so many other authors that I did read nice books by. I’m more inclined to read further books by them! 🙂

  16. Rohit Nanda says:

    An enjoyable read The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen . loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by “to read” list.

  17. Sarah says:

    I thought Corrections better than Freedom but began to wonder whether Franzen actually likes the characters he creates.

    Try reading his essays. How to be alone is full of nuggets. Has anyone read his newest nonfiction Farther away?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Sarah, I’m afraid I’m not really into essays. I much prefer novels. I haven’t actually heard of his non-fiction book! Have you read it?

    • johnj says:

      Hi. Full disclosure, I enjoy all of Franzen’s work, including his non-fiction. If you’d read The Corrections ten years ago I suspect you may feel differently, but who knows. I preferred the Corrections to Freedom by a long shot, but his essays are excellent, too. I’m about halfway through Farther Away.

      I think I can be trusted, for I adore all of David Mitchell’s works. I’ve been enamel red with Ron Rash’s fiction of late.

      • Leeswammes says:

        Thanks for your comment, John. I agree, it matters very much when you read a book how it is perceived. At the moment, I don’t feel like reading more Franzen, but maybe in future, I will.

        I’m a great fan of David Mitchell, too! I don’t know Ron Rash’ work, thanks for the recommendation.

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