Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan


I selected this book for book club after reading a review in the Weekend Australian. I liked it. It has different points of view – the structure is quite intriguing ranging from first person to third person there is even an amazing chapter in second person. The time period changes as well from the near past, to the present, to the near future (where the environment has suffered – solar panels in the desert, etc.)

Here is the blurb …

Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

I would say this novel is a series of interconnected short stories. Although it is more than that – the characters grow, change and adapt, the writing technique alters with each chapter (including one chapter that is consists of power point slides) and then there is the inner lives of the extremely diverse characters – who would have thought that an attempted rape could be so hilarious? And the idea of a suicide rock tour?

The goon in the title is time and all of the characters have certainly been visited by time. I enjoyed the different stages of people’s lives – it seems like one part is going to last for ever and before you know it you’re at a different point with different people and then that changes and your some where else again.

For me this novel was also about appearances and spin. With just the right hat you can make a war criminal look benevolent. By using ‘parrots’ you can create enthusiasm for a musician (he must be good if all of these seemingly independent people say he is).

This might all sound quite chaotic and although I think this book deserves a second reading, it all comes together quite convincingly. From the experience of my book club, it would appear that different readers take different things away.

Some where in my ‘to be read’ pile is The Keep (also by Egan), which I look forward to reading soon.

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The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

After having enjoyed Freedomthis one was a must read. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Freedom – the characters weren’t as appealing – although I did get the same sense of an America not normally described in novels.

Here is the blurb …

After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man-or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.

Franzen has the ability to write from quite varying viewpoints; from Enid wilfully refusing to acknowledge her husband’s descent into madness (if only he would do his exercises he would be OK), to Chip who seems determined to destroy every opportunity that comes his way, and Alfred in his madness (which from Alfred’s point of view seems to make sense). This creates sympathy for a cast of characters and I was interested in their ‘trials and tribulations’.

The narrative shifts around in both time and view point allowing the story to unfold slowly – a technique that seems to be quite popular of late Maggie O’Farrell did something similar in The Hand That First Held Mine. I like it. I like having my opinions about particular characters challenged when I read their version of events.

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