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.
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.