Thursday 23 June 2022


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The Candy House by Jennifer Egan   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Be careful what you wish for. A catch-cry of our present time is a desire to find meaningful connection, to be part of a community within which we are specific and individual. Yet in reality we are more likely to find ourselves awash in a social media sea. In Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House, the desire for authenticity and connection is high and the clever Bix Bouton has the key. Bix is rich and successful. A fast-thinker graduate, his start-up, Mandala, took off, but now he’s out of ideas and craving something of the magic of his younger self. Infiltrating an academic discussion group where they are prying open the social anthropologist Miranda Kline’s theory Patterns of Affinity, kicks off the lightbulb for Bix. And the beautiful cube, Own Your Unconscious, is born. Get yourself a beautiful cube and download your memory — your every moment and feeling: either just for yourself so you can revisit childhood or recall a moment; or upload for the wider community — to The Collective Consciousness — so memories can be shared and information found (sound familiar?). Now Bix is richer, more successful, a celebrity who’s a regular at The White House and loved by many. Life is good. Yet at the edges there is doubt. And not everyone is a believer. There are eluders, those that wipe themselves to escape — pretty much losing their identity for freedom from the technological behemoth. There is Mondrian, an organisation that sees ethical problems within this set-up and offers a way out for those who feel trapped. This novel has connections to her Pultizer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad. There are characters who exist in both, and actions that are revisited by the curious, in particular the next generation who live with the consequences. There’s the anonymity of the urban and the claustrophobia of suburban landscapes, alongside the openness of the desert and the endless possibilities of the sea. All these landscapes play their role in the interior landscapes (the minds) of the diverse array of characters. This is a novel that does not stay still. There is no straight line in The Candy House. Egan writes explosive short pieces, chapters which connect, disconnect and reconnect (sometimes) in surprising ways. Characters are related in familial and relationship lines, or by deed, or the outsourced memory of deeds. Some we meet once, others on several occasions — they are in turn in all their guises: adults, children, parents, siblings. This may sound disjointed, and at times the narrative may lead you astray, but the thematic pulse runs continuously through. As in her earlier Goon Squad, Egan plays with structure and different narrative styles. There is the 'Lulu the Spy' chapter told in bite-sized dispatch commands — a tensely addictive reading experience; there is a brilliantly cutting e-mail conversation chapter where the narcissistic desires of the correspondents will make you wince; and there is the mathematically genius 'i, Protaganist' in which a man tries to realise his crush through obsessive statistical analysis. Knitted seamlessly into this wonderland of ideas are the concrete desires, fears and concerns of various humans, all achingly searching for authenticity within an illusionary world. An energetically clever novelist, Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House gives you sweet treats, as well as a whirlwind of sugary highs and lows. Put down the cube and pick up The Candy House

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