This is a Fictional Friday post, where I review a book (but it might not always be fiction)
Living a couple of hundred miles from home, I get regular aid packages from my loved ones.
I asked my mother, when she asked what I wanted sending down, for two specific things: a wetsuit, and a light read.
My exact words were that I wanted a book, “which I didn’t have the think about”. A book which “I could lose myself in.”
And A Visit From the Goon Squad appeared alongside other presents.
The wetsuit is still on its way, for anyone interested.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Visit From the Goon Squad. I didn’t think about it, and I lost myself in it, and sure, one or two things about it annoyed me and I had a few niggling doubts about the quality of the reading, but for something to read by the pool and when I’m getting into my “ready to sleep” frame of mind (a half hour of reading is necessary every evening for this sensation to occur), it was perfect.
However, if you keep a blog, for instance, on the English Language, and intend to write a blog post about the book, I would not recommend A Visit From the Goon Squad.
I asked for a book I wouldn’t have to think about; and now I have the think about it.
And, all things considered, it’s not the best book in the world. Only when you consider all things though. It’s one of the best when you don’t disturb all things, and leave them as they are.
Take, for instance, the ends. By which I mean the ends people refer to as “loose”. Egan starts with some loose ends, and you see her begin to tie everything together. As the plot unravels, you find yourself (rather smugly, despite how obvious Egan makes it), saying to yourself “oh, he’s her brother!”, or “oh, they went to school together…”. Everything starts to make sense, you’re beginning to understand where all the different people come into play…
And then it ends.
You turn the last page a few times, to make sure you didn’t turn over two at once, and maybe go forward, to see if there’s more, except it’s just adverts for other books “you might enjoy”.
Another thing: as an avid fan of writers such as Ali Smith and Jeanette Winterson, (if I do say so myself), I notice Egan picks up a few of their styles and tricks – but only for a chapter. “For my next trick, I shall avoid speech marks for a chapter” says she, or “I will refer to the protagonist for this chapter only in second person”. I don’t know whether it’s my annoyance that she fails to come up with her own quirks, or the fact that she can’t sustain them for more than a chapter, but Jennifer Egan grinds my gears.
But only when I think about it.
I could go on: her switching between points of view, in Woolfian To the Lighthouse style adds little to the text, and means we struggle to identify with characters. She switches between time frames too often, leaving the reader confused and disoriented and –
Sorry. Scrap that. Read the book; it’s really good.
There’s a slide show at one point, which is incredibly moving to read, even on its own. The writing style is both comprehensive and well written, while being easy to read without thinking too hard. It’s wise and deep at the same time as being light and funny.
Just, whatever you do, don’t think. And for goodness sake, do not write a blog post about the book – hours of pleasant reading will be lost; an enjoyable read snatched from under you, as it has from under me.