The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was disappointed with Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘To Paradise’ after I loved ‘A Little Life’ so much and felt the same with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s ‘The Committed’ after the amazing ‘The Sympathizer’. So, I’m happy that Jennifer Egan has broken this trend. I remember how exciting ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ was, but ‘The Candy House’ has blown me away.
While I’ve had some trouble keeping track of characters in massive novels in the last years, Egan’s device, of telling the next story with a character you’ve met before, didn’t wear thin for me. Instead, I delighted in figuring out where they’d made a previous appearance and in what incarnation, and was impressed, in the end, how all the links between the characters turn so many short stories into a novel, with the weight and resonance of one too.
Egan’s writing is emotionally intelligent and intelligent-intelligent; she explores some hefty themes in this book, never with a heavy hand, but in a way I found engrossing. We meet characters at different stages of their lives, with most evolving and changing into quite different people. The narrative is a complex mix of humour and tragedy; I could be laughing and feeling deep sadness from the same page. Coming to the end of it, I was enjoying the writing so much I started slowing down to savour the storytelling all the more. When I finished the book, I felt that I could start reading it again from the start right away: I enjoyed the individual ideas, stories and characters and a second reading would just deepen my understanding of them, as there’s no real surprise or dramatic arc in the book that make a second reading less enjoyable.
But, instead, I think I’ll go back and read ‘Welcome to the Goon Squad’ again, as I see that it has many of the same characters, and remember little of it after a decade. In any case, high, high, high recommendation for this book. I loved it. I think it’s my favourite book of both last year and this year so far.