Sunday 30 April 2017

Is it open season on middle-aged men?

Copping some flak: Author Jonathan Franzen is getting some stick in the media.
Copping some flak: Author Jonathan Franzen is getting some stick in the media.
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

I have been reading interviews with Jonathan Franzen. I'm interested in Franzen for a few reasons. Firstly because having not got very far with Freedom, his last novel, I am rollicking through Purity, his new one, and I'm enjoying it. I also had the pleasure of meeting Franzen when he becoming an international superstar due to his breakthrough novel The Corrections, which sold three million copies and then some. We even had dinner and got drunk one night. So then, because of, or despite this, when he was back in town, he offered to do an interview with me for The Saturday Night Show.

We pre-recorded the interview and I thought it wasn't that bad. But it was never broadcast. We were possibly concerned that people wouldn't know who Franzen was or be interested in him. It's also possible that the interview was actually rubbish. I was new enough to the game at that stage and also I was probably overawed by Franzen, who is, let's face it, a major rock star in literary terms. I'm not a great one for remembering things well, especially when drunk, but I remember that on our few meetings Franzen seemed like a lovely man. Not easy going, perhaps. But then, I'm not easy going myself. And he remembered me and our night the next time I met him, which I thought was impressive.

So I was surprised, then, by the tone of recent interviews with Franzen in all sorts of quality newspapers. I was surprised because the interviews were all about how much people hate Jonathan Franzen. I was vaguely aware that Franzen was getting a reputation. There have been a lot of articles over the last while with headlines like "Why does everyone hate Jonathan Franzen?" and worse again, "In defence of Jonathan Franzen". But the recent interviews were extraordinary. Here he was, possibly one of the most important novelists of his generation, certainly one of the most popular, and probably the most popular literary novelist in years, and all his interviews seem to involve him having to defend himself against charges of being a prick.

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