Commonwealth – by Ann Patchett
Hi. So, I’ve been away a while. Both figuratively and IRL. I think we can call it Bloggers Block or something along those lines. Probably triggered by an element of self doubt and loathing, comparing myself to others with 000’s of followers, and just the sense that you’re shouting into an empty cave. But after some kind words and some “get over yourself” admonishment from trusted friends and family, I’ve decided that for better or worse, writing this little blog was something I like doing and that I should return to it.
Back to the literal, I have been away IRL, far far away to visit my sister in Sydney. And this is what I read.
It took me forever. The font size in my paperback version was titchy, and I realise now that I need new specs. So it wasn’t a case of slow progress for lack of enjoyment, just that squinting at a page becomes pretty exhausting.
Back to the point. Commonwealth is a clever tale that weaves the back stories of the main characters into the present day through a chain of events that eventually intertwine them all. What starts with an unexpected guest at a christening, carrying a bottle of gin soon turns into a sequence of life changing events for two families. The descriptive passages were such that I readily transported back to the 60s and then 70s as we follow the lives of 6 children, thrown together by their parents’ decisions. Set in both California and Virginia, you can really feel the sense of discombobulation that the children must deal with. A tragedy unfolds, but we are left with scant details at first, though much implication about what may have happened.
Years later, a chance encounter with an esteemed novelist for one of those children takes her life and that of her siblings and step-siblings down another different path altogether. Over time, the consequences of which surface the damage of one fateful day back in their childhood.
This is such an intelligent account of a domestic tale. There are few cliches. Part way through, you think you’ve got it all worked out. There’s something hanging over Albie, the youngest of the children. You could easily leap to the conclusion that he’s gone down the “we need to talk about Kevin” path, but there are no derivative hangovers here, and it’s far more subtle than that.
Late to the party as Commonwealth was published in 2016, and has been sitting in my book pile for some time. But if you haven’t read it yet, then I’d say take a dive in. I really don’t think anyone would regret it.