A rare instance of me picking a book off the Waterstones slush pile (I think I’d glanced at some reviews, some time, but the title put me off). I’m glad I did: although it seems like an unlikely Pullitzer winner, it is a very good read.
In a way it’s the usual contemporary US novel: everyone’s lost or disappointed or broken or compromised. At times, it reads like a less zeitgeist-fixated Coupland, at others a less self-important Franzen. Crucially, it uses a complicated, multi-narrative structure very well without making a fuss about it. Narratives shift in unexpected ways – a minor character from one chapter takes the lead in another, sometimes in such a way that you’re not immediately sure who’s narrating for a while. But of course it’s all beautifully linked, all these lost souls recur again and again, without being *too* contrived.
This kind of book only works if all the characters engage, if all the narrative styles suit (Colum McCann’s terribly patchy Let The Great World Spin serves as an example of what happens when they don’t). Apart from what I thought was a very disappointing and pat final chapter, Egan totally pulls it off, even the seriously moving chapter consisting entirely of a child’s PowerPoint presentation.
It’s a strange book in a way, everything from the title to the various book jackets to the subject suggest an enjoyable but not particularly essential book, and yet it’s one of the most moving and stylistically inventive books I’ve read all year.
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