Fiction The Interestings omnivore reviews

Published on August 12th, 2013


The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

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Blurb: On a warm July night in 1974 six teenagers play at being cool. The friendships they make this summer will be the most important and consuming of their lives. In a teepee at summer camp they smoke pot and drink vodka & Tangs, talk of Günter Grass and the latest cassette tapes; they also share their dreams and ambitions, still so fresh and so possible. But decades later not everyone can sustain in adulthood what had seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, has resigned herself to a more practical occupation; Cathy has stopped dancing; Jonah has laid down his guitar and taken up engineering. Only Ethan’s talent has endured. As their fortunes tilt precipitously over the years, some of them dealing with great struggle, others enjoying extraordinary wealth and success, friendships are put under the strain of envy and crushing disappointment. (Chatto & Windus, 2013)

Kate Mosse, The Times

“This is a wonderful novel. Intelligent and subtle, it is exquisitely written with enormous warmth and depth of emotion. Any précis of the story won’t do it justice. On paper, it could sound like yet another state-of-the-nation American novel rooted in a particular kind of East Coast experience. That it is not shows that Wolitzer is an exceptional and ambitious writer … what makes The Interestings exceptional is the precision and elegance of Wolitzer’s writing.”

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Allison Pearson, The Telegraph

The Interestings is full of Wolitzer’s trademark pleasures. I love her fearlessness in tackling everything from the difficulty of getting a penis inside you to the sheer horror occasioned by your best friend’s new walk-in refrigerator. She has a sly wit and verbal brio which can even make clinical depression entertaining, although it’s fair to say some readers may feel they have better things to worry about than the tribulations of New York’s navel-gazing intelligentsia. Above all, though, this is a great feminist novel.”

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Rachel Cusk, The Guardian

“This is the kind of American novel that sees the world through a wide-angle lens, and try as it might to incorporate tragedy, it is essentially a cheerful enterprise with a guaranteed entertainment value. Wolitzer is a writer of prodigious energy and detail, with the knack for comic-satirical perceptions of character and culture that powers other long-running American narratives and perhaps finds its best expression in the numberless TV series that have become an imported staple of our own culture too, whose black wit is forever counterpoised against their ebullience and inexhaustibility.”

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Claire Lowdon, The Sunday Times

“Envy within friendship, disappointment, discontent, depression — this is difficult, unsexy subject matter, but in Wolitzer’s hands, these banalities are riveting. She is a terrific storyteller, with an omniscient knowledge of her material that inspires total confidence from the first page.”

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Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times

“The Interestings is warm, all-American and acutely perceptive about the feelings and motivations of its characters, male and female, young and old, gay and straight; but it’s also stealthily, unassumingly and undeniably a novel of ideas.”

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“There’s something funnily incongruous about young New Yorkers going through their growing pains in rustic teepees. And there’s something intrinsically sad about this novel too. Right from the start its heroine, Julie Jacobson, is renamed Jules by her fellow campers and feels excitingly like a completely reinvented person. She also discovers irony, which “was new to her and tasted oddly good, like a previously unavailable summer fruit.””

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Peter Aspden, The Financial Times

Wolitzer rarely patronises her protagonists; indeed she could be accused of being over-sympathetic to them. The gloss of teenage memories needs to acquire a patina of realism if one is to evolve into a fully-functioning adult. However heady those shy fumblings at summer camp felt at the time, should they really resound into middle age? But it is a tribute to the author’s skill that we continue to care about her cast … The breadth of Wolitzer’s scrambled timeline enables her to whisk political and pop culture references into her narrative, which sometimes feel forced.

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Holly Williams, The Independent

“The awkward, tragi-comic stresses these gaps in perceived success and actual wealth can cause between friends are captured here too; Jules has a corrosive envy of Ethan and Ash’s gilded lives. And Wolitzer’s unflinching, omniscient gaze makes the reader look right in the eye of some unpleasant human traits – from envy that makes you hate your best friends, to a shameful parental disappointment in your child, to the double-think that justifies lying to your husband. Wolitzer doesn’t pass judgement; the secrets and strains simply add to the sense that these characters are very real, un-romanticised and wincingly familiar.”

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Eithne Farry, Daily Mail

“Wolitzer has a knack for homing in on the kind of pretension-puncturing details that can sum up a minor character in a single sentence. Though their youthful talents mostly fail to deliver their dreamed-of futures, this is not an overly melancholic novel. Limitations, it turns out, can also become liberations.”

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Jessica Holland, The Observer

“The book is ambitious, encompassing Aids, autism and 9/11, but it’s best when dealing with details, like the involuntary, guilty way Jules weighs the value of her life against those of her friends. The ultrasound technician she marries argues that “specialness” isn’t necessary to live well, but it’s not until middle age that she realises, “you could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting”. Wolitzer explores her themes seriously, but there’s also enough lightness, pace and wit that it’s easy to tear through the book in a day.”

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Talitha Stevenson, London Evening Standard

“Wolitzer’s comic gifts find an ideal expression in these early scenes. At times she has Anne Tyler’s eye for tender detail … And she brings the camp to life in a flurry of quirky particulars … But for all the line-by-line joys, Wolitzer preps her reader for a satirical follow-through she never supplies. Though her story begins on a needlepoint in history, she doesn’t link her teenagers’ self-importance with the culture in which they were raised. It’s a frustrating approach — and it’s one she maintains throughout the decades-long saga of their lives.”

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