Monday, July 18, 2011

'A Visit from the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan

18 July 2011

Writing in The Guardian this week about 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2', Peter Bradshaw said that part of the colossal achievement of the Harry Potter movies was that they "brought home to me how terribly brief childhood is". As Douglas Adams said "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 'A Visit from the Goon Squad', which I've just finished reading, is a fascinating reflection on time and the brevity and connectedness of human lives. It is a structurally amazing book, a jigsaw puzzle that only reveals itself fully at the very end. Set in and around the music business in New York, the opening chapter of 'A Visit from the Good Squad' focuses on Sasha, the kleptomaniac assistant to a record label boss, showing us the world through her eyes. But the second chapter shifts the focus to a different character (who had been mentioned in passing in chapter one) at a different time. A peripheral character in this chapter becomes the main protagonist in the next, and so on. Each of the book's thirteen chapters has a different subject, taking us backwards and forwards in time (from the late 1970s to the near future) and to different locations across the world. But all the characters are connected to each other in some way. This is social networking as narrative structure: apart from a brief namecheck of Facebook there is little mention of online social networks but Jennifer Egan uses the haphazard nature of 'friends' or 'friends' to construct a complex web of relationships. One review likened the book to David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' and, while the timespan of 'A Visit from the Good Squad' is within one human lifetime rather than spread across several centuries, Jennifer Egan teases the reader, much like David Mitchell, before revealing the connections between her main characters. 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' is compelling, funny, clever and incredibly sad - a remarkable achievement.



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