"This is Patchett’s most ambitious novel to date, yet it is a surprisingly quick read, underpinned by a compelling plot and accessible prose."by Lucinda Smyth / December 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury, £18.99)
The first remarkable thing about Commonwealth, the seventh novel by Ann Patchett, is its length. For a book that spans five decades, two families and two American states, it is just over 300 pages. This is Patchett’s most ambitious novel to date, yet it is a surprisingly quick read, underpinned by a compelling plot and accessible prose. In the face of so many recent doorstoppers by American novelists, Patchett is refreshing.
Also refreshing is the gin and juice concoction that Bert Cousins rustles up in the first chapter. The novel opens in a sweltering summer in the late 1960s, with Bert, a married district attorney, stumbling uninvited into a party at the house of Fix and Beverly Keating. Bert brings with him a bottle of gin, and enough charm to seduce Beverly while her husband is downstairs. Though the consequences of the affair acts as the spring-board for the action, Commonwealth is not about Bert and Beverly. Instead it centres on their children, who become an unlikely team after being awkwardly blended together in the wake of the new marriage. Patchett weaves between these characters in an effortless stream-of-consciousness, giving her reader just enough detail about each.
On the surface Commonwealth is a domestic tale. But there are also strong political resonances. Guns lurk in the background, and emerge to the fore at threatening moments. In the wake of a tumultuous US presidential election, Commonwealth seems particularly relevant. It is about the reunion of broken America as much as it is about the union of broken families.