books, review

Review | Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Published by Bloomsbury, 2016

The acclaimed, bestselling author – winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize – tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly – thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

Behold! My first 5 star read of the year!  I read this in January and things have been pretty much downhill since! (Not really, but kinda …)  I hadn’t read anything by Ann Patchett before reading this book, and I didn’t really know what to expect.  I’m not sure if all her books are as wonderful as this one, but I definitely aim to find out!

Commonwealth opens with one of the best first chapters, and indeed one of the best first sentences, I have ever read …

“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”

Whaaaat??  That sentence immediately pulled me in and I needed to know why, how and who!  Was it a good turn or a bad turn?  Who was Albert Cousins?  Why was he bringing gin to a christening party? Would the party have taken the same turn if someone other than Albert Cousins had turned up with gin?  And what if it wasn’t gin? (yes, these are indeed all the questions that flew threw my head on reading that sentence!).  The answer, of course, is that if Albert Cousins had not turned up with gin the rest of the book would not have happened.  It all hinges on Albert.

Ann Patchett takes through a wandering, meandering story of family, siblings and parents trying (not very hard, admittedly, but this was the 1970s) to do their best.  It is a story about choices, and of the consequences of the choices we make.  It is nostalgic and atmospheric, tense, heartbreaking and funny.  I have never felt so anxious reading a scene as I did reading the ‘walk to the lake’ scene.  I felt sick.

This book has a firm spot on my favourites shelf and I need to get on some more Patchett asap!

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