Jonathan Franzen to return with new 'multigenerational American epic' novel Purity

The sprawling novel with span 'decades and continents'

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The Independent Culture

Great expectations have been raised for fans of Jonathan Franzen after the award-wining author announced a “multigenerational epic” new novel with a Dickensian twist.

Purity, published next September, promises to be a typically sprawling novel by the best-selling author of The Corrections.

Franzen’s fifth novel, published five years after its predecessor Freedom, is a “multigenerational American epic that spans decades and continents.”

The story follows a young woman named Purity Tyler, who goes by the Dickensian abbreviation Pip, who doesn’t know who her father is and sets out to uncover his identity.

The narrative stretches from contemporary America to South America to East Germany before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and hinges on the mystery of Pip’s family history and her relationship with a charismatic hacker and whistleblower.

Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said the novel marked a stylistic departure. “There’s a kind of fabulist quality to it,” he said. “It’s not strict realism. There’s a kind of mythic undertone to the story.”

Purity will be published by Fourth Estate, part of Harper Collins, in the UK. The novel looks set to become a future Man Booker Prize contender now that the contest has been opened to American writers. Freedom and The Corrections, which won the National Book Award in 2001, have each sold well over a million copies.

Franzen, 55, whose novels typically focus on fracturing families, will also be the subject of a major authorised biography by Philip Weinstein next Autumn.

The book explores his “metamorphoses as a person and as a writer – from his ultra-sensitive childhood through his Swarthmore (Pennsylvania arts college) years, his troubled marriage, and his tumultuous self-reappraisal during the 1990s, up to his arrival on the mainstream cultural scene as a literary icon”.

Since Freedom, Franzen has published an essay collection and a translation of essays by the author Karl Kraus, heightening the anticipation for his next full-length fictional outing.