Five years ago, I reviewed Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, noting that it was seven years since her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad had been published. I was a little disappointed in it, truth be told, but when I spotted The Candy House in the schedules, I put up my hand, attracted by the idea of a novel that promised to explore our ever-growing obsession with life online. Opening in 2010, The Candy House explores the fallout from a technology that captures our very consciousness through a series of narratives connected by characters all linked to Bix Boulton, creator of Own You Own Consciousness.
It was only a matter of time before someone made them pay for what they thought they were getting for free. Why could nobody see this?
Aged forty, Bix is faced with a blank horizon, unsure of the next stage for his hugely successful company, Mandala. While out on a rare nocturnal walk, he spots a flyer advertising a discussion group set to follow a lecture by Miranda Kline, author of Patterns of Affinity on which Bix based the algorithms underpinning Own Your Own Consciousness, something that Kline deeply resented. Attending the group incognito, Bix experiences an epiphany resulting in Collective Consciousness which allows subscribers access to the memories and experiences of others after they’ve uploaded their own. Connections formed at that meeting will criss-cross over the next quarter of a century as Collective Consciousness expands and a counter movement of individuals determined to elude an online identity becomes almost as large as Mandala. By the time Bix dies, a circle has almost been turned as his son glimpses a different version of the world rooted in authenticity.
I see now that the place I’ve been yearning for is my own imagination
Impossible to write a synopsis that comes anywhere close to capturing the complexity of Egan’s ambitious novel with its differing narrative styles, some fragmented, that jump from character to character, pulling the threads of connection together, sometimes more obliquely than others. Although I wouldn’t call this a sequel, fans of A Visit from the Goon Squad might want to think about rereading it as part of that web of interconnectedness is the reappearance of several of its main protagonists and their children. It’s far from an easy novel and there was one section in particular that didn’t work for me, but it’s certainly an impressive one with a decent helping of dry humour to help it along, and its themes are on the button. Definitely a book that would repay rereading, although perhaps I should dust of my copy of Goon Squad before I think about that.
Little, Brown Book Group: London 9781472150912 352 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)