A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I’m still a little surprised to find myself writing that I really liked A Visit From The Goon Squad.

But I am !

I was less than thrilled a few months ago when I saw Jennifer Egan’s name on the longlist for the Orange Prize. I just didn’t get on with The Keep, or with Look at Me. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. And I really didn’t really think that a book by the same author about American record company folk would be the book for me.

But what do I know?

I read a great deal of praise, and some of it came from people who hadn’t expected to enjoy the book. And then A Visit From The Goon Squad won the Pulizer Prize.

Curiosity got the better of me at that point, and I placed an order. And I am so glad that I did, because A Visit From The Goon Squad really is a tour de force.

Thirteen chapters.

Each had a different style, a different viewpoint, a different point in time, a different narrative trick. Never before have I seen such variation in one novel.

With all of those differences, with characters appearing and disappearing, this could have felt more like a book of short stories than a novel. And yet it didn’t.

Because although I couldn’t identify with the characters, although I didn’t particularly like them, they were so well drawn, they had such depth, that I was always intrigued.

Because the prose and the storytelling was so clever, so compelling that I just had to keep reading. Jennifer Egan balanced characters, stories, styles and tricks exceedingly well.

Because recurring themes tied everything together. How we deal with the passing of time. How lives can move in directions we didn’t expect, didn’t want. How we have to adapt to survive. Big questions.

There were things I didn’t like. I found the chapter with extensive footnotes difficult to read.

But there were many more strokes of brilliance. The first chapter moved between two different perspectives, two different times more elegantly than I thought possible. And the much discussed Powerpoint chapter dazzled me. It had such clarity, and it quickly decided that it was the perfect medium for that perspective, that particular story.

A Visit to The Goon Squad isn’t a book for everyone.

It takes work. To keep track of characters as the stories shifted backwards in time. To take in so many different things. to fill in the gaps.

It is a book for the head much more than the heart.

And it is very modern. Very experimental.

In theory I shouldn’t have liked it. But in practice I did.

17 responses

    • It’s probably a book that needs exactly the right moment Kathy, when you have time to think and are in the mood for something a little different.

    • Reactions are mixed but its worth a try. One to order from the library maybe – with all the awards it has won there are sure to be copies in stock!

    • I can understand people not liking this one, but it worked for me. It was an interesting change from the books I usually read.

  1. It sounds like you enjoyed this one a lot more than I did! I could appreciate how clever and original it was, but it just wasn’t for me.

    • It was a book for the head and not so much the heart. Not my usual sort of book at all, but I was curious and something clicked. But I can see why others have liked it less.

  2. I bought the paperback the other day – really looking forward to reading it. I heard her on the radio a couple of months ago, and liked her – she came across as the American equivalent of jolly hockey sticks, talking very fast.

  3. This is not my type of book at all either, but I thought it was fantastic when I read it last year. It’s really stayed with me, too, and I can’t say that for many books I read. I loved the structure and the characters were fleshed out very well. I think this may be a book like Life of Pi- you either love it or hate it!

  4. The chapter with the footnotes is supposed to be in the style of David Foster Wallace, and thus is supposed to be too clever for its own good and irritating. Wallace had enough heart and earnestness, in my opinion, that I not only forgave that part of his writing, but came to like it from him. It’s not as like-able from a non-like-able character.

    If you enjoyed it a first time, I recommend giving it a second read. There’s lots of stuff sprinkled throughout connecting the characters that I didn’t see the first time. I intended to do a slow, deep reading, instead I sped through it gleefully.

  5. Pingback: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan – 3/10 | Reading Fuelled By Tea

  6. I was quite confused and annoyed by this one. I kept track of the characters and the structures and everything, but there *was* no heart – I couldn’t love it. It was so busy being clever and sophisticated and kooky that there was no spirit in it for me. Interesting that you say you think you shouldn’t have loved it but you did – outside your comfort zone?

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