Book Review: Purity

really wanted to like this book, for two reasons;

  1. It’s 563 pages long
  2. It’s a compulsory text for my Modern American Lit course

There have been a few times in my life where I have hated a book and unfortunately this has been one of those times.

The book is about a young woman named Pip who has accumulated $130,000 of student debt. She is invited to work for Andreas Wolf at The Sunlight Project (it’s basically the same as Wikileaks) with the promise that if she works for him, he will help her find her father. Pip wants to meet her father primarily for the purpose of demanding money from him. The story is told from the perspective of different characters and most of them are less-than desirable to say the least.

Trigger Warning: This book is yuck (violence, rape, abusive relationships, lots of uncomfortable sex-stuff). Please don’t read this if you’re going to be offended.

EVERYONE knows how much I loathed reading this book. My mum knows, my boyfriend knows, my friends know, and I’m sure my professor will know once he reads the essay I wrote about it.

Normally I would think that it is good to read things you wouldn’t normally read in order to understand things you wouldn’t normally understand – or even think about. Broaden your horizons, gain life-experience through reading, that kind of thing – you know? In the case of Purity, though, I simply felt like I needed to take a shower after each reading session. I definitely don’t feel like a better person for reading it, that’s for sure.

I was discussing Purity with a friend at uni and the woman sitting next to us got up and moved away from us!

So, just for you, I’m going to count-down the top five things that I can’t stand about this book.


5. References to Great Expectations 

Sometimes it’s cool when a book makes a literary allusion to another book. There is also a reason why this is called a ‘literary allusion’ —  allusions, by definition, are meant to be subtle, they are a way of mentioning something without explicitly saying it.

Franzen seems to enjoy smacking readers in the face with his blatant references to Great Expectations.

The main character’s name is Pip, her mother Anabel is very Miss Havisham-esque, other characters reference Great Expectations jokingly to Pip, and Pip even says to Anabel, ‘as long as you’re alive, it’s just going to be great expectations for me’. 

To me this came across as pretty shonky writing. Every time I was blasted with a reference, I rolled my eyes.

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Literary ALLUSION

4. Things only got interesting around the 400-page mark

Yeah, that’s right. The book only started getting mildly intriguing after slogging through 400 pages of painful back-story. The majority of the book feels like a series of (very well fleshed-out) character-sketches.

The last 163 pages helped to remedy the book, softening my opinion a little when the stories started tying together and there was a bit more action. BUT, the ending still wasn’t particularly compelling and I wish I could have spent my time re-reading the seventh Harry Potter book instead (which is about the same size as this mammoth).

Yes, characterisation and back-story are really important. However, Mr Franzen may find that most readers do not wish to sift through pages and pages of Andreas Wolf masturbating… *covers eyes*

Size isn’t all that matters, Mr Franzen, especially when it comes to books…

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3. Franzen’s in-text references to… Franzen?

CRINGE. Seriously?! The author actually REFERENCES HIMSELF:

“So many Jonathans. A Plague of literary Jonathans. If you read only the New York Times Book Review, you’d think it was the most common male name in America. Synonymous with talent, greatness. Ambition, vitality.”

Someone help me, I died laughing when I re-read that. I don’t know if he’s just very satirical and ironic, or if he’s just self-absorbed.

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2. The way men are portrayed

Hey, guys. Are you aware that you are a PREDATOR?

Did you know that it is totally fine for you to have VIOLENT URGES and to express these through;

  • thinking about smashing your partner’s head in with a rock (during sex),
  • consuming violent porn (is there a link between the two of these?),
  • getting an erection from thinking about murdering your father,
  • totally wanting to get in with your mother…
  • dabbling in a bit of incest,
  • some pedophilia,
  • rape,
  • maybe even murdering someone and then masturbating over their grave?

What the heck, Franzen? HOW IS ALL OF THIS MADNESS IN ONE BOOK?!

Every single male character in this novel is kind-of-terrifying. If I didn’t know a lot of decent, kind, caring, guys in real life, after reading this novel I would probably hide myself in a padded room in the hope of never chancing upon someone of the male-species ever again.

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Ya’ll are scary, according to Purity. It’s like Mr Franzen hates guys ALMOST as much as he hates *feminist* women…

1. The way women are portrayed 

I had to save this for number one, because it is the one thing that drove me absolutely insane while I was reading, even though I understand he’s trying to be satirical… It just… killed my soul a little.

Having honestly never even heard of Jonathan Franzen before I began my Modern American Lit course this semester at uni, I wasn’t exactly aware of some of his history when I first started reading the book. Having since done a bit of research, I can see he has had a few run-ins with the feminist side of things.

Reading the book and considering the kind of person Franzen appears to be in his interviews, I’ve decided that the entire book has basically been written for the purpose of trolling feminists. There is absolutely no way that you can read this book, as a person who believes in equality for women and men, without being frustrated and wanting to throw the book across the room. Franzen wants to annoy feminists, there is no doubt in my mind that he did this on purpose…. he is a troll, I swear. I just hope that in his lifetime he meets some women who are more three-dimensional than the women he wrote about in Purity. 

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More like, ‘Wow. Wrong person to expect to write a decent portrayal of realistic women in a novel’

As if the portrayal of men wasn’t demeaning enough to the masculine gender, the portrayal of women is just as bad, if not worse.

Let me tell you why…

  • There are no healthy female-friendships in the book. All of the women are competing against each other – usually for men – and it kind of reminds me of this scene from the Hunger Games
  • Most of the women are home-wreckers (I guess that explains why they all hate each-other)
  • Most of the women have ‘daddy-issues’ and seem to be desperate for the attention of older men. Feels like Franzen is wishful-thinking here
  • The most obvious feminist character, Anabel, also happens to be emotionally unstable, neurotic and kinda-crazy. We are also told her back-story through the perspective of her ex-husband Tom, who can’t make up his mind if he loves her or hates her and whether he should bash her skull in or just continue having sex with her
  • The female protagonist, Pip, pines about wanting a man to just give her orders so that she knows what to do with her life, saying that she has a ‘slave personality‘. Gotta love those strong female protagonist role-models coming out in modern books these days!
  • Everyone in the book seems to have a bad/unhealthy relationship with their mum. The book kind of feels like a hate-on-all-mothers fest. So don’t buy this book for your mum for mothers day, okay? (Or any other day of the year)

I could go on for days about the way women are portrayed in this book, but I’ll spare you. Most of the women are vapid, self-absorbed, over-sexualised and just waiting for a man to tell them what to do with their lives. I found it extremely irksome to read and I made so many ‘huffing’ noises while reading this book it’s lucky I still have any air left in my lungs at all.

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So there you have it; the five main reasons why I didn’t enjoy Purity in the slightest.

Don’t waste your $32.99 AUD buying it, the only plus side for me was that I got a student discount on the book and I can hopefully sell it to the next sucker who needs to read it for class.


Have you read this book? I would love to hear other people’s thoughts and opinions as I know there have been critics who have raved about Purity… 

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