A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan


Finished this last night. It is wonderful. I’d been hearing about it for quite a while (you know when you hear about books. Other books I hear about, and have yet to read are Claire Messud The Woman Upstairs, Louise Erdich’s The Round House (I think, I’ve got it written down somewhere) and AM Homes’s This Book Will Save Your Life. It’s like there’s a tipping point, from having something in mind, having heard about it a few times, and then someone will mention it once more and that’s the moment when you buy it and read it. For me, the tipping point with Goon Squad was Annabel Smith mentioning it in one of her reading wrap-ups a few weeks ago.

It’s original and clever, and I was struck by the form of it, how she organised it, and the second-last chapter left me breathless. I was moved and impressed and envious of her work. While reading the first half of the book, there was one stage when I was wondering whether I would ever ‘see’ one of the early characters again, and thinking to myself ‘oh, if we don’t I won’t be happy’ but then indeed INDEED she reassuringly closed the circle (more of a dashed circle, rather than with a solid line: this is part of the genius of it) and I was happy and totally satisfied. I’m tempted to re-read it right away to try to map the characters with a pen and paper but perhaps that would spoil the magic of it. Anyway, if I read it again, I will map. Definitely.

I’d also had thoughts along the way, such as ‘is this a novel?’ ‘what is a novel?’ and while sometimes I don’t like being taken out of the reading experience this became part of the reading experience, and is Exhibit B of her genius. (incidentally, I just googled for a review and here’s one from the Guardian, that says it’s not a novel and not a collection of short stories. If not, what is it? It did remind me of Tim Winton’s The Turning but I think was more successful (or less subtle?) because it was clear from early on that there were chapters written from different character POVs, at different times in their shared histories but the sprawl of it is enormous and somehow she has captured multiple lifetimes in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen done in a work of fiction.)

I’d heard it was a funny book. Annabel had suggested it wasn’t LOL though and it isn’t, in fact there is a lot of sadness in it but without any sentimentality. I recommend it.


I’ve also started reading The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. It’s a memoir and I saw it highly recommended somewhere, by someone. It’s pretty bloody good so far.


I finished the Edward St Aubyn, Lost for Words. Yes it was clever and wry and funny and cheeky but I don’t know if it’s an enduring read for me and I don’t know how well-written it was really. I can’t compare cause I’ve never read anything else of his, and I know that parts of it were deliberately ‘in the mode of’ to illustrate (I think) what he thinks is the kind of ‘shit writing’ that makes it onto awards lists and mean that more deserving works are ignored. It was particularly poignant though as I finished it just before the Miles Franklin winner was announced last week, a result that shocked a lot of people it seems as there were all sorts of conversations about Evie Wyld not being an Australian writer, and that her book didn’t compare to the big hitters, especially Richard Flanagan and Alexis Wright. I think there was a lot of surprise that Flanagan didn’t get it. But I don’t think Flanagan will write a book like St Aubyn did and I suspect there was bitterness behind the writing of Lost for Words. Even the title conveys what many people might have been feeling on Thursday night last week.

I’m also half-way through Colum McCann’s This Side of Brightness, about the building of the tunnels of the New York City railway system. I’m reading it on the recommendation of someone, to see how McCann structures two parallel narratives; one historical and one contemporary. How he makes it clear the connection of the two main character POVs from the outset, and cleverly inches each narrative along, so that (like a tunnel started from different points, working towards each other) so the two narrative lines connect. I was sorry to hear of McCann being assaulted during the week.


5 thoughts on “A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

  1. Oh I loved a Visit from the Goon Squad!

    Just last week I finished Egan’s first book, The Invisible Circus. On closing it I thought, Hmm…in Goon Squad, with the story of Sasha as a teen in Italy, Egan has done an infinitely better job of telling the same story, and has done so in perhaps a tenth of the word count. Interesting to have the privilege of seeing how a writer develops and hones her skills over time.

    As for Claire Messud The Woman Upstairs, I really wasn’t took taken by that one. I saw a great review on Sydney Review of Books, read it and was a bit meh. The review, to me, was a greater act of creation than the novel it described.

    1. So, not worth looking at the first one, Invisible Circus? Hmm on the Messud one, interesting. I like it when there are conflicting reports, I’ll still check it out.

  2. Goon Squad is one that has been on my radar for ages as well. I will get to it… (also prompted by the fact that Annabel has mentioned more than once that she loves it!).

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