Book Review: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I returned for another read of this novel after reading the latest Egan, The Candy House, and thoroughly enjoying it. And I clearly didn’t review it the first time around, While I knew that there were some of the same characters in both books, I didn’t know how clearly the two books connect. I can see them being bound together and marketed as a pair; it would only add to the weight of the novel, all the connections between the characters and the theme of how time changes us.

So, my recommendation would be to read this book first and then The Candy House … and I’d think that you’d know, after the first chapter, whether you like the style of writing and characterisation. I’m quite surprised by the negative reviews of both books: Egan’s writing seems to hit people viscerally so you either love it or hate it, though there is a lot of complaint in the negative reviews that this book won a Pulitzer and other people liked it so much. I’ve always found this strange: you might not like a book but why is it a problem if other people do? Thus, my recommendation: if you start reading it and don’t like it, don’t read more!

A number of the negative reviews comment on being unable to connect with the characters, and finding them somewhat cold, or disconnected. But to me the cast of characters are complex and flawed, usually too smart for their own good, and I found them fascinating to read about. I didn’t necessarily see myself in any of them, or want to be any of them, but that’s not the only reason for reading fiction.

I found this book intelligent and engaging. I was engrossed enough that I didn’t find the various literary games (like the second-person story, or the PowerPoint presentation) unenjoyable or showy or too clever. For me, they were ways of drawing me deeper and deeper into the characters and stories, which are often comic in how tragic they are: I didn’t mind that tone at all: feeling like laughing at the characters and then not feeling that I should and so forth. And rather than feeling disjointed, I was interesting in all the ways the characters and stories connect to each other. While reviews often boil the theme down to ‘time’, I’d propose that an equally important thread is ‘promotion’, how we show ourselves to others, how we sell ourselves to others, how we try to get ideas across. The final chapter has a prescient take on Influencers that has probably become more accurate since publication. I rarely read books a second time, so to have done so and found the writing as smart and exciting as I first did means that this is a *rave* review.

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