I’m often wary of books that win big prizes; hesitant to read them either because I worry that I’ll be disappointed after all the hype, or that I’ll be overwhelmed by their worthiness.
A Visit From The Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011 and I don’t know anyone else who has read it yet, so I came to it with a fresh attitude and a liking for its quirky cover. I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I usually do. I’m not often at a loss for words when talking about novels, but this one has left me unsure of how to express what I felt about it. It is an incredible book; unlike anything else I’ve read.
I think Jennifer Egan has perhaps invented a new genre. Some people have likened it to a collection of short stories, however I didn’t experience as such. I found it to be a book with a thread that ran through it, sometimes taut, at other times winding back on itself, sometimes slack. The writing had a rhythm to it that beat through the chapters, with each note tripping on one after the other, each separate but connected to make a concerto.
Egan follows none of the accepted writing rules through this book. She writes in the first person, the plural first person, the third person and even the second person. She writes in the past tense, present tense and future tense. There is no set plot. Different narrative techniques are used, including a journalist’s report on an interview with a movie star (with footnotes included) and, incredibly, a Power Point presentation put together by a teenager about her family, which runs for 74 pages. She writes with a mixture of irony, black humour, poignancy and sadness.
And it all works – she has produced a book that is totally captivating and kept me fascinated for hours.
A goon squad often refers to a group of thugs, employed by someone to beat other people up; however the goon in this book is Time. Egan writes: “Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?” Scotty shook his head. “The goon won.” She studies the effect of time on the characters, on how past behaviours have affected present situations and how present actions might affect future events.
If there are main characters in this book, the two main protagonists would be Sasha, a kleptomaniac, who we meet in the first chapter, and Bennie,her boss, an aging music executive. Tendrils curl out from these two, drawing in other characters, all of whom are related to each other in some way; and thus the chapters gain a rhythm. It sounds as though it may be confusing, but it wasn’t to me. Egan creates each character perfectly. Bennie, for example, sprinkles gold flakes into his coffee in the belief that it will make him more potent. La Doll (a disgraced PR agent) works for a genocidal African dictator, who I’m sure Egan based on Robert Mugabe. The children in the book aren’t cute and innocent; they are shrewd observers of the situations they find themselves in because of the adults around them.
If there were a theme, or themes, to this book, I suppose it would be music and time, and how music changes through the passing of time, yet I feel such a definition would narrow the scope of the book. It is a book that has to be read, rather than explained, as I believe each person’s experience of it will be different.
I certainly have to read it again, as I feel as though I have just scratched the surface of it. I would highly recommend it and would love to get feedback from others as to what they think of it.
- Short stories: Julian Barnes and Jennifer Egan (guardian.co.uk)
- Amazon UK Kindle Daily Deal! A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan for £1.29! (randomizeme.wordpress.com)