Book reviews: The Candy House and Eyes of the Void
Jennifer Egan never stops moving. She constantly slips between points of view and characters and times. Individual chapters are treated as opportunities for experimentation and enjoyment – perhaps delivered as a series of emails or as spoken text or as a PowerPoint display or, at some point The candy househer new novel, in the form of a series of one-sentence gnomic instructions to a young spy as she completes her mission.
Egan’s books travel through time and back, his characters using existing technology and near-future smart technology. She’s like an overactive optometrist, constantly testing the reader “what about this?…and now this?…what about this?” It is the white album of novelists.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this might all seem a bit too much, a bit tiresome and disorienting, an irritating pony. But there’s nothing flashy about Egan. She never loses her balance as a writer, nor her grip on the whole, and the innovations never overwhelm the reader. Everything is at the service of the plot and the character. Her bustle delights rather than disconcerts.
The candy house is his sixth novel and is a kind of companion to his greatest success, the Pulitzer winner A visit from the Goon Squad. Like its predecessor, it is neither entirely dystopian nor utopian, but follows its characters’ attempts to make sense of modern life and the perceived loss of intimacy, purpose and meaning. They can use a “Mandala box”, in which users upload their unconscious, and in turn have access to the unconscious of others throughout their lives. We’ve all wondered “what happened to so and so?” and now there’s technology that lets you find out.
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It’s a curious truth that in a time when we’ve never been more connected or communicated more frantically with each other, we are somehow more alone than ever and more likely to struggle with our sanity. We know that hours spent raving and scrolling on Twitter are ultimately meaningless, mere on-the-go activity that has trapped us in some kind of capitalist web of exploitation. But we don’t seem to know what to do about it, or even what we would do without it. As Egan writes, “Knowing everything is too much like knowing nothing; no story, this is just information.
The candy house asks the questions: do memory and nostalgia hold solutions to what afflicts us? Can they reconnect us to each other in meaningful ways? Egan doesn’t have the answers, but she and we are having a great time on the trip.