A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

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A Visit From the Goon Squad

Winner of 2011 Pulitzer Prize
Longlisted for 2011 Orange Prize
Winner of 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award

Five words from the blurb: popular, humourous, lives, interact, loss

A Visit from the Goon Squad seems to have won more awards than any other book this year. There is no question that it is a groundbreaking novel (how many other books do you know containing an entire chapter written as a powerpoint presentation?), but I think this is going to be one of those books that divides opinion. Unfortunately I fall into neither camp – I’m going to sit on the fence for this one.

A Visit from the Goon Squad shows an array of characters at various important moments in their lives. The book flips forwards and backwards in time and it is often hard to know who is narrating, let alone what period of time each character is in. Things do eventually fall into place, but a great deal of concentration is required to piece everything together.

The writing was easy to read and allowed an instant connection to be formed to each character, but I’m afraid I didn’t have any real interest in what the characters did. The music and PR industries have never interested me and so all the wonderful satire went over my head.

Very little actually happens in the book and although some of the scenes were fantastic I reached the end feeling a little bit let down. It all felt a bit too gimmicky for me.

Charlie doesn’t know herself. Four years from now, at eighteen, she’ll join a cult across the Mexican border whose charismatic leader promotes a diet of raw eggs; she’ll nearly die from salmonella poisoning before Lou rescues her. A cocaine habit will require partial reconstruction of her nose, changing her appearance, and a series of feckless, domineering men will leave her solitary in her late twenties, trying to broker peace between Rolph and Lou, who will have stopped speaking.

There was no real message behind the book and so I didn’t think the effort was worth it.

The best thing about this book is that it is impossible to read without forming an opinion on it – you’ll love it or hate it, or perhaps, like me, you’ll find you do both in equal measure.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

…it just might make your brain explode…but in a very pleasing way. The Book Lady’s Blog

I recognize the genius of what Egan is doing but my main reaction after many of the chapters was “Huh.” Life with Books

There is a very, very fine line between quirky, original, and ambitious and plain old annoying. I think that A Visit From the Goon Squad is firmly on the side of awesome. Amused, Bemused and Confused.

….it was a bitter disappointment. Always Cooking Up Something


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35 Comments

  1. parrish says:

    Seen this book about quite a lot & it definitely divides opinion. Must admit the idea of the power point presentation intrigues me.
    Ps. I’m giving a book away as part of The Literary bloghop. All invited.
    Thanks parrish.

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, I think it is worth getting it just to take a look at the original way she has created a story using powerpoint. I think this will date the book quickly so it is worth reading it now, before it feels old :-)

  2. Sandy says:

    I definitely fall on the love side of things. I listened to the audio, which was a challenge in many ways, but a rewarding one. I’m sad you weren’t overwhelmed like I was. I guess loving music may have aided in my opinion, but I also thought it was so much fun to be surprised by who I would read about next, and in what decade. And the way I felt about a character in one segment would change in later segments. Very creative in a world of same-old same-old!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I was very tempted to get the audio book after I saw you raving about it, but it was very expensive and not readily available here – so I got the paperback from the library. I almost wish I had gone to get the audio now though as I can see why it would work better in that format. The only downside is that you miss the powerpoint and I thought that was the best bit. I also agree about the orginality – this book does stand out from the crowd!

  3. Alex says:

    The book blogging community rules! This is book’s has such a huge array of opinions – I’m loving it. CB James actually made tables and graphics: http://readywhenyouarecb.blogspot.com/2011/06/visit-from-goon-squad-by-jennifer-egan_21.html

    I’ll try to steer my bookclub to this one, wish me luck!

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, Yes, I loved CB James’ character maps too. They are great at showing how much more connected each character is than first appears.

      Good luck with the book club!

    2. cbjames says:

      Thanks for the mention here, Alex. I hope my charts can help your book club or at least add a little to to conversation.

      I’m going to refrain from much of a comment here, because, as I said in my review, I love this book far to much to be rational about it. It does hold up on second read, and it does ask a lot of its readers. Everything is not easy to spot on the first read. This is one thing I loved about it, it treats its readers as adults, as sophisticated readers capable of doing the work needed to read the book. So much is written for average readers these days it’s nice to find an advanced book.

      1. Jackie says:

        cbjames, I can see why you love it and agree that there aren’t enough books that test the reader coming out these days. I think it was the subject matter that ruined this one for me. If only it had been about scientists instead of the music industry I probably would have liked it.

  4. Graham says:

    I really loved this one. I was sceptical at how a powerpoint chapter would work, but even that section manages to convey a lot in a few words. It might seem gimicky to some people, but I was really impresses with this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Graham, There is a fine line between gimmicky and genius and I think this book is just falling on the gimmicky side. I can see why people like it, but I prefer things to be a bit more conventional.

  5. Donovan says:

    I had similar thoughts after finishing the book. I’ve been told that it takes another read to truly appreciate the novel.

    1. Jackie says:

      Donovan, I’m sure that this does improve with each re-read – I’m guessing that you spot more of the connections between the characters. But I’m not excited enough about it to want to try that. :-(

  6. I’m definitely on the love side of this one, but it’s definitely not a book for everyone. I think part of my love for it was the diversity of the characters and how well-fleshed out they were. I always love when characters intersect in unexpected ways, and there was plenty of that ther.e

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I was impressed by the way she brought each character to life so quickly, but I was frustrated by the way wonderful characters disappeared and I didn’t get to go on a journey with them. I think I’d love one of her books if she focused on a single person.

  7. Hi Jackie

    I think you hit the nail on the head for me when you wrote that you aren’t that interested in the music or PR industries – me, likewise. I have seen this book around ALOT and keep thinking I should read it and then I read the blurb and yet again cannot get up enough interest to read it. Is it ok for me to say that your 3 and half stars has pretty much convinced me not to? I really haven’t read anything from anyone that it going to tip me over the edge….

  8. It seems like an interesting experience to read this book. I do not enjoy a book with many characters, though. Still, it sounds like a must-read. In a way.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I think it is one of those books you should read, just to know what people are talking about – so you can join in the debate. If you don’t like too many characters then I can’tsee you enjoying this one either, but I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

  9. Andi says:

    I reviewed it earlier in the week and felt much the same sense of “meh” you expressed here. The writing was pleasant enough but it fell flat for me overall.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, At least we know we’re not alone. :-)

  10. I have this on my shelf, and was planning on reading it after The Tiger’s Wife, but then I just thought I’d put it on hold for a little bit longer… let the dust settle, let the expectations drop, as almost everywhere, people have been oohing and aahing about this book.

    I suspect that I will love this book based on the reviews, but then again… I don’t want to start reading it with any preconceived notions (yes, I see that I’ve contradicted myself there). I’m sorry it fell flat for you…. at least there were bits (few and far between?) you loved. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, Perhaps it is the fact that I don’t like short stories? I loved quite a few sections, but like short stories, I was left wanting to know more about each character. There were too many characters and despite the interconnections between them all it still felt a bit disjointed to me. I hope that you enjoy it more than I did. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

  11. Amy says:

    I’ve never been super intrigued by the premise of this book so your on-the-fence review leaves me feeling the same. I just don’t think I would love it… despite the number of awards it has won.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I wonder if all the people who loved it thought that the permise sounded good? I thought it didn’t sound like my sort of thing, but so many rave reviews made me think I might be wrong. Turns out I wasn’t :-(

  12. JoV says:

    At some point soon I’ll be reading this one. I’m intrigued with the premise and love powerpoint slides, so we’ll see how this pan out. It’s not like you to sit on the fence so I’m doubly intrigue what the book is like! can’t wait.. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, I can’t say I love powerpoint slides so it looks like you have a headstart on me! I look forward to seeing what you make of it. :-)

  13. Jenny says:

    My book club was meant to read this, but I forgot about it and backed out at the last minute. Now I’m not sure I’m ever going to read it — I absolutely loathed the other book by Jennifer Egan that I read, and I’m not usually the biggest fan of contemporary American “literary” fiction.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I think this is a fantastic book club selection – I can imagine there would be a passionate discussion and everyone would spot things they hadn’t on first reading, so it is a shame you missed out on that, but if you aren’t a fan of her books then I imagine you wouldn’t be a fan of this either.

  14. Jeanne says:

    I found each chapter a fascinating perspective on the ones before and after. It was like variations on a theme, in music, with a great climax, in terms of the last chapter about the future.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, I agree that the last chapter was interesting, but I thought her vision for the future was so accurate it was almost dull. Perhaps I’m odd, but I like visions of the future to be thought provoking, instead of creating a “she’s probably right *shrug*” response. :-(

  15. Jenners says:

    It is definitely a book that gets a strong reaction … regardless of how you feel about it you’ll have an opinion! I do think it required concentration. I made the mistake of not reading it all the way through in a short amount of time. I kind of dipped in and out over a few weeks (while also reading another book) and that was deadly. I actually plan to reread it (something I never do) and see what I really think once I have my full wits and attention about me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I agree that this book required a lot of concentration – not something to be read on the train. I read it quite quickly and was wondering if I should have read it over a longer period of time. Perhaps neither way is right and multiple readings is the only way to go?

  16. Steph says:

    I am really looking forward to reading this one! I know it hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea, but I am hoping it will be mine. It’s too bad that you felt there wasn’t any real message to the book, but it does sound like a really interesting exercise in storytelling.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think you’ll enjoy it more than I did, but I look forward to finding out whether it will become your favourite of the year.

  17. Kathleen says:

    I just read another review today that judged this to be mediocre. I’m thinking I’m going to let it sit on my long list of “to be read” books for awhile longer.

  18. Biblibio says:

    I think one of the reasons I haven’t leapt to read A Visit from the Goon Squad yet (despite the quirky title and the hip vibe it gives off) is because it seems like one of those books that tries hard to be so groundbreaking. I don’t deny that a lot of the tricks and gimmicks in the book sound appealing (indeed, I even tip my hat to Egan), but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be particularly enjoyable or even rewarding. The themed stories idea works well sometimes, but I’ve found that I prefer the link to be coherent, otherwise I lose interest quickly.

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