I have a busy reading schedule. I'm reading mainly kids books at the moment, carrying on with my quest to read 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. But I want to read all sorts of books. Sadly life gets in the way. Family. Work. Being possibly the slowest reader in the world. Naturally I have a huge TBR, both tangible and figurative. Sometime though a book shoots out of nowhere and becomes the book I have to read next. Reading schedules be damned. An itch that has to be scratched. A Visit from the Goon Squad is exactly such a book.
I'd heard of it of course. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. I'd seen it in the shops. But I only knew about it in a vague sense. I'd never read a review, and I don't remember anyone on any of the myriad blogs I read reviewing it. If they did it's possible that I ignored the review anyway. The title really didn't appeal to me. Somehow I thought that is was a mafia book or something. Even though the cover art didn't look like a mafia book.
Then one night recently I was home alone and decided to watch an old edition of First Tuesday Bookclub (check out the video, it's well worth it), and I was hooked. I had to read it. I bought it a few days later, and read it when I should have been reading The Wind in the Willows. Thankfully, it's not a mafia book.
It's really quite hard to say what sort of book it is. It's about music certainly, the interconnectedness of our lives, the personal and the political, and time. Time is the titular goon.
'Time's a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?'
There is an extraordinary cast of characters, but the story centres mainly on music executive Bennie Salazar, and Sasha, who is working as Bennie's assistant when we first meet her at the beginning of the novel. It's a broad sweeping novel. An unusual structure it must be said. A challenging multiple point of view, multi-layered work. Thirteen chapters all offering a different narrator, giving us insights into the main characters and those that inhabit their lives- whether briefly, or for the long haul. Many times I found this confusing (and I am generally a fan of the multiple POV), and for the first two or three pages of each chapter you're searching hard for clues trying to work out whose voice it is and when, as the chapters slip back and forward in time too. I started to imagine this book as a heap of threads of coloured wool thrown haphazardly on the floor. It's all connected, it's all joined together, but it takes time to make sense of it.
The two chapters that work the best are the least traditional non-narrative structures. A great one written as a celebrity bio piece by Bennie's brother in law (and is apparently an "uproarious parody of David Foster Wallace", I wish I was well read enough to know that). And very late in the book we have an extraordinary powerpoint presentation style chapter, a slide journal, written by Sasha's daughter. You wouldn't think that would work- but it definitely does. It's really very clever.
But not too clever. Jon Ronson one of the guests on the First Tuesday book club says that it's not annoyingly post modern. I think that's very true. I'm not a fan at all of postmodern styling just for the hell of it. A Visit from the Goon Squad breaks with tradition, and takes some risks, but never tries to annoy the reader. In fact, Egan often ties up loose ends. Early on, she tells us the future of a very minor character. What will happen to him 35 years later.
Thirty five years from now, in 2008, this warrior will be caught in the tribal violence between the Kikuyu and the Luo and will die in a fire. He'll have had four wives and sixty-three grandchildren, one of whom, a boy named Joe, will inherit his lalema: the iron hunting dagger in a leather scabbard now hanging at his side. Joe will go to college at Columbia and study engineering, becoming an expert in visual field robotic technology that detects the slightest hint of irregular movement (the legacy of a childhood spent scanning the grass for lions). He'll marry an American named Lulu and remain in New York, where he'll invent a scanning device that becomes standard issue for crowd security.
It's funny the detail of that passage stayed with me, and it's only now, when looking it up again, that I see the significance to the story! It's more clever than I realised. And every review I read is only making me want to reread. If only I had time to go back and read it again. I don't feel compelled to do that immediately, as I did with The Road (and the Wind in the Willows is still waiting). But this is definitely a book that would reward rereading.