Capsule Recommendation: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad consolidates both Jennifer Egan’s craft and capacity for psychological insight and verifies her as a consummate polyphonist. Her novel-in-stories describes a sustained discontinuous trajectory which toggles and stutters and strobes through narrative linearity, through modernist and contemporary storytelling convention, through time and memory and event and human betrayal and creative ambition until we appreciate that her book, in both formal innovation and in thematic engagement, is like the music it interrogates: a valedictory lament for the once-unnegotiable promises we’ve all made in the throes of a painful though purer youth.

A Visit from the Goon Squad  A Visit from the Goon_Squad #2

Egan’s novel is structurally kaleidoscopic, even if its stylistic accomplishments aren’t as conceptually audacious and sui generis as might be anticipated in a work of literary fiction such as this one, so oft-praised for its aesthetic virtues as to defy immediate critical comparison: in many ways, the reader is compelled to accept that each character presented throughout the course of Egan’s narrative is invested with a keenly-observed psychology, but it’s rare that the language employed to convey this interiority is used to individuate the characters in question. Continue reading

Capsule Recommendation: HHhH (a.k.a. Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich) by Laurent Binet / trans. Sam Taylor

Laurent Binet, escritor francés, galardonado con el Premio Goncourt.  Reinhard Heydrich

This is a profoundly troublesome book to review in short order because, for me personally (if you’ll excuse the intuitive knee-jerk redundancy), Laurent Binet’s HHhH assumes the status, or perhaps the infrequent and baffling honour, of being a work of literature I appreciate and recommend, with some qualification, despite a host of initial (and not insubstantial) misgivings I harboured during the reading process. In fact, I would say — without express inhibition — I love this book, but this reaction might be characterised as contradicting my initial evaluation of Binet’s material. In some ways (and for a more explicit context), this is a critical reaction I can only attribute to a few previous instances: I recall enjoying David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but felt that its entire second/middle act should have been excised entirely or revised thoroughly, and I grappled with my increasingly diminishing enthusiasms over Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, if only because I would have designated Murakami’s novel structurally and narratively unsalvageable, if not for the final/third book which somewhat redeemed the systematically flawed entity for me as a whole. What I can express, in framing Binet’s HHhH in this tendentious context, is that it is certainly the best of the three works, and that the authorial issues I encountered upon reading Binet’s book nonetheless retain a verisimilitude with those I reconciled myself to when reading both the Mitchell and the Murakami: in sum, Binet’s work improves itself unequivocally from about the final third on.

HHhH Binet  HHhH Binet #2

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