The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: A review

 

Jennifer Egan's latest is billed as a sequel to A Visit From the Good Squad which I read way back in 2013. A lot of books have flowed over the rocks of my brain since then, so I don't remember the specifics of that book as well as I might, but I do remember that I liked it. In fact, I've never read a book by Egan that I didn't like. And that includes The Candy House

This one is a bit difficult to describe. It is all about memory and the desire for privacy in a world where so much of our lives is open to the public. We can come to feel that our lives are no longer our own but are part of the shared memories of everyone around us. As I say, a bit difficult to describe or wrap our heads around.

The time is 2010 and Bix Bouton is a successful tech entrepreneur on the lookout for the next big thing. A conversation with some Columbia professors puts him on the track of an idea for downloading or externalizing memory. The technology that he creates to make that germ of an idea a reality allows an individual access to every memory he or she has ever had as well as the ability to share those memories and the memories of others. Thus, "Own Your Unconscious" is born.

The technology becomes wildly popular with the public. Egan then shows us the potential consequences of the system through the lives of many disparate characters over decades. She does this in a number of different styles throughout the various chapters. One chapter, for example, is comprised of nothing but tweets! It's certainly a creative, imaginative way of developing a theme and telling the story. 

Through this imagined technology, one is able to access and remember the memories of others: one's forebears, for example. What could possibly go wrong with that? Furthermore, she imagines a system of "counters" who track and exploit the desires of others as they are identified in memories. In her world, there are also "eluders," those who understand the price of becoming involved in "Own Your Unconscious" and refuse to participate. 

The world that she imagines has social media and technology as an integral part of the living environment. One review of the book that I remember described it as the "soundtrack" of our lives and that seems particularly apt. And what if one doesn't want one's memories to become a part of this global consciousness? Can one refuse to participate? Can one disown one's consciousness and one's memories? As much as an exploration of the possibilities of reliving the memories of others, Egan's book seems to be a warning of the dangers of such sharing. In the end, although we long for connection with others, we also cherish our privacy. It is, after all, the essence of what makes us us.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

Comments

  1. Don't think I've read anything by this author. I actually borrowed this book but returned it unread when I saw it was a sequel. I think it would take too many of my brain cells right now to try to enjoy this story LOL. I am glad you liked it though.

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    1. It could actually be read as a standalone. The events of this book don't really depend on anything that happened in the earlier book. It's just that it has some of the same characters.

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  2. Over and over I've heard people praise A Visit From the Goon Squad, but I've never read it or anything else by this author. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed both Visit and this new novel.

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    1. I've now read three of her books and enjoyed them all. I think my favorite is Manhattan Beach.

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  3. This was a DNF for me, and I have to admit I wasn't even able to make it to the end of the first chapter. I can't tell you why because reading a summary of the plot on a library website interested me so. I just felt like I was dropped into the middle of a story (I'm used to that in the genre I prefer) but without any way to figure it all out. I somehow missed that this was a sequel until after I had returned the book. I wonder if reading the first book may have helped, even though some reviewers say it was necessary and others said it wasn't necessary.

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    1. I don't think reading the earlier book would have helped. Even though they have some of the same characters, the plots really don't track. This just wasn't the book for you. It happens.

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  4. Thank you for the review. A new book I've not seen on the blogs yet.

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    1. It is very new. I think it came out in April of this year.

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  5. What a fascinating premise! I know there are memories I have that I'd love to be able to remember better, and others that I'd love to totally forget...but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to share any of them with the world. Great review, Dorothy. I think I'm going to have to read this book now. :)

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    1. It was an interesting and very creative idea for a novel and Egan executed well.

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  6. What an interesting concept! This sounds really good!

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    1. I think it is one of the better books that I have read so far this year.

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  7. Yes keep the privacy! I like her technology warning theme ... but not sure if I want to read this one and its style ... hmm

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    1. Her writing style is a bit of a challenge for me but overall, I enjoyed this one and I liked the message of it.

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