I have to start by saying I never did get around to reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, I can’t really say why – I think it came out at a time when I was not really able to prioritize reading, given little kids and jobs – there were some years when my children were quite little that I did read, but it was mostly Stephen King novels, or Shirley Jackson, or just re-reading whatever was on my bookshelf. So I missed the sibling novel, which I hear pairs very well with The Candy House. As such, know that if you’ve read both, you might have a very different perspective, who knows? I imagine reading both would enhance this novel, which is very much about close connections existing just below the surface of any interaction, threaded together by our memory. I enjoyed this ride – I don’t think this is a traditional novel by any means, it was more of a compilation of different formats that worked together as a whole, although it’s hard to say exactly how or why that happened.
The title is more or less derived from the notion that we’ve all heard by now – if you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product – or, there’s no free lunch – or, we are all essentially eating our way through a candy house, with little to no idea that we’re being surveilled by a hungry witch with vastly superior intelligence to ours. Most events take place in a world that is both recognizable to us – just before or after the pandemic, with only a few oblique mentions, perhaps a model for how the pandemic will be treated in future novels. In the world of this novel, there is a technology in which people can essentially upload their entire consciousness – and they can access anyone else’s at will, all they have to do is be willing to exchange their own thoughts to have access to anyone else who also makes that Faustian bargain. And while this is an important, central element to the story, Egan manages to make that not very much a part of the actual action of the novel. We meet aging movie stars and record producers, children seeking their parents and mourning their parents and dreading homecomings with their parents. Lovers meeting and wooing and divorcing. Friendships forged in childhood recalled, friendships borne of enmity that transforms itself like a novel. There are journalists and spies and lawyers, mothers and sons and doting grandmothers. It’s the full spectrum that Egan is able to provide that make this book so full, despite only ever dropping in and out of a bird eye view.
I enjoyed this book, and I’m adding her earlier novel to my library request list. If you’ve read both and feel that one enhances the other, I’d love to know that! I felt this did well enough on its own, but I could certainly see how it would deepen the impact of the story if I had been familiar with some or all of the characters from a previous story.