Editorial reviews


The problem with the book is that although initially it feels enjoyable, the more you think about it, the worse it seems. It’s like a soap opera for people who don’t watch TV, or maybe for people who do watch TV as well, given the sales figures.

If Purity is a book about identity, Pip’s journey reveals that who we are is an invisible structure built on a foundation of the people in our lives.

It is gracefully written and extremely funny.

As in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, the overarching story gets quite silly in a cleverly calculated way, and it’s sometimes hard to avoid the impression that Franzen has expended great intellectual effort on giving himself permission to write a pumped-up, topical middlebrow bestseller.

Purity is a beast of a book. If you’re already a Franzen fan, then you won’t be let down. If you aren’t, this is your opportunity to give his writing a second (or perhaps first) chance.

I think, at bottom, Purity is really about Franzen's aesthetic desire to spin out lots and lots of stories, to experiment with his craft — which is a fine endeavor, but leaves the reader feeling simultaneously overwhelmed, yet curiously empty by the end of this long, packed novel.

This novel isn’t The Corrections, but its controlled plot, ambitious narrative, and insightful comments on investigative journalism and modern disconnect deliver on the hype.

The shame of this novel is that purity is largely found not in the storytelling but in the author's passive aggressive contempt for nearly all his characters.

A book worth reading but certainly not the Great American Novel.

If I’d been told Purity was a first novel by an unknown writer – male or female – I suspect I’d be dazzled by its rich scenes and crackling dialogue, its delicious observations about contemporary life, the breathtaking scope of its ambition. The person who wrote this, I’d think, has an amazing future.

With Purity, Franzen reestablishes himself as a novelist who can keep a reader engaged for the long game (563 pages this time) while playfully initiating the reader into complex moral questions.

With his absorbing fifth novel, “Purity,” Jonathan Franzen expands his great theme of the rub between close relationships and personal freedom to encompass the push and pull between openness and privacy.

Even readers who have found his earlier work misanthropic, too filled with bile and spleen for their tastes, are likely to appreciate his ability here to not just satirize the darkest and pettiest of human impulses but to also capture his characters’ yearnings for connection and fresh starts — and to acknowledge the possibility of those hopes.