I found this novel excellent. It worked so well on lots of levels.
Very simply, it is the story of an extended family over time. It begins at the christening party for Franny Keating, where the uninvited Bert Cousins turns up and kisses Beverley Keating, the young girl’s mother. This sets the whole story in motion and brings about the breaking up and eventual joining of two families. The children of both relationships will eventually spend their school holidays together, and as the novel charts the next fifty years we see them bonding in different ways to support each other and their various parents and step-parents.
Commonwealth regularly moves the reader through time, sometimes taking us by surprise. Jumps of different lengths help us to bridge some fifty years. Franny remains the central character to the story. After she drops out of Law School, she works as a waitress in a cocktail bar, where one night she encounters the drunken and famous novelist Leo Posen. He and Franny begin a relationship that lasts several years and during that time she tells him the story of her family. He turns her stories into his most successful novel yet, but it is some time before other members of the family discover that they have become characters in a book. The youngest of the siblings is the most hurt by the revelations and so begins the events that bring Franny relationship with the writer to an end. Some of the revelations about what happened long ago have been buried in different ways by all the members of the families. Years later the book is made into a film, bringing the events to the attention of even more of the family, and so the repercussions roll on.
I love the subtle movements through time and the growth and change of the characters, who all seem to soften with the passage of time. It is an excellent read and a wonderful development of characters and story.