Tuesday, 10 May 2011

38/111 – A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

My reading habits have taken a terrible nosedive in the past few weeks, due to some personal issues. It’s dreadful, really. I love to read. It’s a wonderful distraction, most of the time, but lately I just haven’t been able to muster up the concentration to read. Then I started this book, and finishing it became this mammoth task that I seemed totally unable to take care of. Normally I read 2-3 books a week, and I haven’t read anything new for several weeks now. I’m hoping that finishing this book will symbolise me getting over the hump. Books-wise, at least.

I bought this pretty recently, because it had done really well in reviews, was nominated for prizes and eventually took this year’s Pulitzer. I’ve also read one of Egan’s books before (Look At Me) which I really enjoyed, so I thought I was pretty well set-up to read this one.

I did enjoy it, but I’m not sure how I feel about it now that I’ve finished it. It’s strange to think that the way I enjoyed this could have been affected by the way my life has been recently, but I guess it works pretty well the other way around: art can have an effect on your life, so why shouldn’t your life have an effect on the way you interpret that art?

I most enjoyed reading parts of this book while I was drunk. Not wasted or anything, but 1-2 glasses of wine drunk. I read some of it on the way back from meeting a friend for a drink a few weeks ago, and after that large glass of wine, I was convinced that this was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I felt the same way last week, after another large glass of wine. I don’t really want to talk much about the book, so I’m going to pull out a couple of quotes that made me laugh a lot:

“Does the chemical composition of Jagermeister cause a craving for string beans? Is there some property of string beans that becomes addictive on those rare occasions when they’re consumed with Jagermeister? I asked myself these questions as I shovelled string beans into my mouth, huge crunchy forkfuls, and watched TV – weird cable shows, most of which I couldn’t identify and didn’t watch much of. You might say I created my own show out of all those other shows, which I suspected was actually better than the shows themselves. In fact, I was sure of it.”

Not sure why this made me laugh so much now, though I suspect it has something to do with the fact that for a while last year I lived with a girl who used to cook and eat enormous quantities of string beans. She would eat so many at a time, that she would go to work with a protruding belly and people would ask her if she was pregnant. It also made sharing a bathroom with her a ghastly experience.

One more:

“Kitty opens her small white purse and takes out a picture. A picture of a horse! With a white starburst on its nose. His name in Nixon. ‘Like the president?’ I ask, but Kitty looks blank at this reference, ‘I just liked the sound of that name,’ she says, and describes the sensation of feeding Nixon an apple – how he takes it between his horsey jaws and smashes it all at once with a cascade of milky, streaming juice.”

I think I just like the idea of the horse being able to crush a whole apple in his mouth.

That’s all for this. I haven’t really spoken much about the actual book, but I’m not in the mood. I liked it a lot, but felt a bit bereft at the end. Not enough to sustain the whole thing, but really excellent characters. The story itself is more like a series of character vignettes of people who are loosely linked in some way or another. Some good female characters in there, but they seemed very sad for the most part, although that could just be because I’m a little sad myself these days.

Next time: Spurious by Lars Iyer 

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