Culture Street

Books

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

On September 26, 2016

By Sophia Whitfield
Ann Patchett’s latest novel is an acute observation of the way split families form lasting bonds with shared parents and siblings.

One Sunday afternoon, Bert Cousins, deputy district attorney, is desperate to get away from his pregnant wife and three young children. He gives his excuse to his wife, pleading attendance at the christening of baby girl. He doesn’t know the father well, a cop he has previously had dealings with, but his sketchy friendship gives him a window of opportunity to retreat from his home life.

Turning up at the christening party of Franny Keating, he makes drinks for the attendees and before the night is out has kissed Franny’s mother Beverly and set the course for the next fifty years.

Two marriages dissolve and six children find themselves thrown together during summers in Virginia, Bert’s four children (two boys and two girls) and Beverly’s two daughters.

Spanning five decades, Patchett examines the aftermath of Bert’s encounter with Beverly. The Keating and Cousins children forge a bond in response to their parent’s lack of interest. But one summer a tragic incident mars their childhood forcing them apart and leaving them to cope alone.

Years later, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with famous author Leon Posen. He hasn’t published anything for some time and is being chased by his agent for his next novel. When Franny shares the story of her childhood with her lover, Posen writes his next novel based on her terrible story. It becomes an immediate hit, winning awards. News of the publication and its far reach begin to reach the Cousins and Keating children causing them to reach out once again for each other.

This is a compelling novel, full of recognisable characters. The sibling dynamics are so well drawn; perfectly flawed yet united in a strange alliance. A powerful tale of familial love.

Buy the book here in Australia and here in the UK.

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