Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Pages Review - Commonwealth - Ann

Ann Patchett is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite authors. Her new novel takes her talent to a new level totally engrossing you in the lives of two families who themselves get tangled up over the years due to a few choices of fate.

The novel opens in 1964 at a seemingly innocuous christening party. An uninvited guest arrives bearing a bottle of gin and a chain of events gets set in motion. Patchett jumps around with her timeline and doesn’t immediately follow the most sympathetic characters choosing instead to flesh out the least as you piece together how two completely separate families join together and how a tragic event begins to unwind them apart again.

This novel reminded me at times of Richard Yates and others of Richard Russo but Ann Patchett out shines both with ease, with precision, with damn fine writing and simply beautiful storytelling. This is probably one of Ann Patchett’s most personal novels (after reading This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage you can recognise some inspirations for her own life) but unlike one of the novel’s protagonists she manages to keep some distance between truth and fiction.

Ann Patchett has written a novel of immense beauty, charm, sadness and tragedy. She will have you laughing out loud as you read one minute and wiping a tear away the next. This is a book I could have, and still want, to read forever. I did not want it to end so lost I became, not just in the story and the characters Ann Patchett so vividly brings to life, but also in the words and way she tells her story. This book is quite simply marvellous. This is an American Classic in the making.


Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth presents the evolution of two American families fused together following the events of one hot Southern Californian day in 1964. It’s a thoughtful, poignant and moving novel, elevated beyond the traditional domestic novel thanks to the depth of its characters and their tumultuous experiences so deftly depicted by one of the great contemporary American authors.

The story opens during a seemingly innocuous christening party hosted by Beverly and Fix Keating for their second daughter, Franny. The celebrations are proceeding as planned – that is to say, mundanely – until a lawyer named Bert Cousins shows up uninvited, carrying a bottle of gin, which immediately livens things – particularly when he is introduced to Beverly, and develops an immediate infatuation, which results in their marriage, and their move to Virginia. And so, a new familial unit is established, comprised of six step-siblings; a unique blend.

Patchett doesn’t lay out her narrative chronologically, but events transpire seamlessly, cutting back and forth in the family’s timeline, and spotlighting a variety of its members. In another writer’s hands, this approach and such an extensive cast might be unwieldy ; but we’re in a master’s. Despite the novel’s epic scope, it’s confined to a wonderfully limited page-count (just eclipsing the 300-page mark), and its tragedies and revelries are incredibly potent.

Commonwealth is honest and heartfelt, presenting a family at their best and worst and most shambolic. It is packed with truths, and powerfully illustrations the importance of family, and the strength of that unit. It’s a novel that will make you feel, and grateful for the loved ones in your life.

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