Sunday, 26 July 2015

Book Review: 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan

“If I had a view like this to 
look down on every day, I would 
have the energy and inspiration 
to conquer the world. The trouble is, 
when you most need such a view, 
no one gives it to you.” 

What was it about?

A Visit from the Goon Squad is sold by the fact that it is controversially called both a novel and short story collection: it contains a series of interlinked stories, with characters that overlap and appear in more than one story, characters which (sometimes unknowingly) have great affects on each others lives. The protagonists who tend to provide the links are music executive Bennie Salazar and his assistant Sasha. This concept greatly intrigues me- how we shape each others lives, how we change over time, how we represent and misrepresent ourselves.

What did I like?

Many of the characters were very distinctive, and extremely interested. From the very first story I wanted to learn more about Sasha, to understand her and both how she became the way she was and what she would do in the future. The characters, in general, were vivid and fantastically painted. It was very clear that they were passionate about something, and devastated when this passion failed, or when real life overtook the dream that they had.

I loved it when a detail from an earlier story shed light on something in a later one. You can't put  a price on the feeling when you know something the characters don't, or when you go 'aha!' because you recognise something and suddenly it all makes sense.

It was a pretty depressing novel- we followed these characters for large chunks of their lives, through the ups and inevitable downs. Bad things happened, terrible things. They only seemed fleetingly happy. Everyone settled. Everyone was deprived of their dreams in some way. There was no silver lining or happy ending. But I liked its honesty, and the complicated psychological world that it portrayed. The world isn't, and should never be portrayed as, perfect- this novel felt like a portrait of what is unpleasant, but true.

The chapter made up of a powerpoint presentation. Of course.

What did I dislike?

I almost feel like the novel/short story collection didn't quite achieve what it set out to do, to tell these stories of Bennie and Sasha. Some of the stories were too wide, and whilst interesting, seemed a little pointless. They led the story away from what I wanted to know: who were Sasha and Bennie, why did they make the decisions they did, why did they lead the lives they did? I felt we did get to the bottom of this with Sasha actually, but not Bennie. I wasn't sure I ever understood him.

Overall, I'm not quite sure what Jennifer Egan was trying to say. Her techniques were great and I am awed by how flawlessly she created all the different perspectives and revealed some information by using them. But, I don't know, I felt kind of cheated by the end. Like I didn't find out enough, learn enough. I wanted something more revealing, something like the TV show The Affair, when characters are truly exposed by another's perspective. I didn't quite get that.

It was a little depressing.

Would I recommend?

Yes. But it would be easy to give up on, especially when the perspective changes so often.

View it on Goodreads here.

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