February 28th, 2014


8: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 8: A Visit from the Goon Squad
8 A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD Jennifer Egan (USA, 2010)


The lives of a group of friends as they age and face various disappointments.

A Visit...won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

I love experimental writing styles, which made me believe I would love this book. Unfortunately, Egan's novel is messy and shallow.
A Visit...is a novel, but could easily be described as a series of linked short stories with recurring characters. This could be interesting; instead it is an excuse to constantly scratch the surface until there is no space for a meaningful story to emerge. "So what?" is what I kept asking myself as I was reading, until I ceased to care.
I appreciate the fact that Egan experiments with a different style with each chapter, clearly using writers such as David Foster Wallace or Jay McInerney as sources of inspiration, but the "insights" below the surface are unimpressive and often cliché.
To me, this book felt like a huge waste of time.

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Punk Orchardist Librarians; A Matter of Heroines; Beyond the Cock

Punk Rock Jesus, by Sean Murphy
I picked this up because I liked Joe the Barbarian so much. Had trouble putting it down, generally a good sign with comics. Reminded me a bit of Hitman and Sin City.

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
This was really hard for me to read for some family-history-related reasons. The weirdest part is that I kept avoiding reading it without knowing why, and then once I stopped dissociating and said, 'OH, DUH,' I was a lot more ok with reading it. Anyway, it's a good book, engrossing, but potentially upsetting for those of us with rough childhoods. :/

How to Teach: A Practical Guide for Librarians, by Beverly E. Crane
Parts of this were super-useful but most of it was dry and non-inspiring.

A Matter of Life, by Jeffrey Brown
I really enjoyed these. Little slice-of-life strips that were just whimsical enough and just cynical / self-conscious enough. Plus sometimes they were funny.

Heroines, by Kate Zambreno
This was really good in the personal / laser-focused parts and really annoying in the generalize-y parts. I kept thinking I was going to stop reading it, but then the former parts won me over. I ended up enthralled.

Cock, by Mike Bartlett
Funny, sometimes heartbreaking, quick read of a play. Whenever I read plays, I think "I should read more plays!" Maybe one of these days I actually will.

Beyond the Wall, edited by James Lowder (complimentary copy)
This was a really fun collection of essays. Also, it unexpectedly had a Ned Vizzini essay in it, which I really liked, in the bittersweet sort of way where you think "Yup. I really really like this author," and they are dead and they will never write more stuff.
(35, A1, O12, E8)
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    watching Bones

Book 48: The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

Book 48: The Technologists.
Author: Matthew Pearl, 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Techno-Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 480 pages.

Spring 1868, and the population of Boston is being terrorised by technological attacks: first a magnetic storm causes ships in the harbour to collide in flames, then in another bizarre catastrophe every piece of glass in the financial district spontaneously melts - clocks, windows, eyeglasses. Nothing in nature can do this: these are man-made disasters. Someone has unleashed the destructive potential of science on an innocent population.

The city's fate relies on four young students of the recently founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Marcus Mansfield, a Civil War veteran determined to repay MIT's founder for taking a chance on him, brash Bob Richards, meticulous Edwin Hoyt and the eccentric but brilliant Ellen Swallow, the first woman at MIT, who experiments secretly in a basement laboratory. Together, they are The Technologists. In a climate of rising hysteria, these four courageous individuals must unite against the forces of darkness to uncover the mastermind before he can stage his greatest outrage
. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Matthew Pearl brings together a number of historical figures with fictional characters in a thriller set in post-Civil War Boston featuring the early years of MIT. Of those characters listed in the synopsis above Richards, Hoyt, and Swallow did attend MIT that year. While Marcus Mansfield is fictional he was, according to Pearl, inspired by a some real-life students as was Chauncy Hammond, Jr., known as Hammie. He is a friend to the others though not part of the core group seeking to solve the mystery. There are also other students of MIT and Harvard, professors and many others. It was the kind of novel where I found it useful to make a note of who was who when they were first introduced

While the man-made disasters are fictional, Pearl explains in his author's notes that the technology to produce them did exist, something that surprised me. I was also surprised that I spotted the mastermind behind the disasters quite early on though I was uncertain until the final reveal thanks to some well placed misdirection.

As with other of his works, Pearl inserts into the text snippets of the writings of Richards and others and his extensive research into all aspects of the novel's premise was impressive. It's certainly not an all-action type of thriller but quite cerebral and fairly slow paced as befits its 19th Century period setting. However, things do get quite tense in places and the climax was nail-biting. I certainly enjoyed the novel.
gothic 01

Book 49: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book 49: The Night Circus.
Author: Erin Morgenstern, 2011.
Genre: Historical Fantasy. Magical Realism. Tarot. Circus.
Other Details: Hardback. 387 pages and Unabridged Audio (13 hrs, 42 mins). Read by Jim Dale.

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called 'Le Cirque des Rêves', and it is only open at night. - from the author's website.

I first read this novel two years ago 2012 Book 15 and when it was selected for my library reading group this month it seemed a good opportunity to read it again. At first I decided I would listen to its audio edition though very early on I found I was enjoying it so much that I brought out my print copy and over the course of a week both read and listened to the novel.

The story of two young magicians trained from childhood to take part in a challenge by their respective mentors was even richer the second time around. Knowing the story and its outcome gave me the opportunity to savour the richness of the prose and pick up on nuances that I had missed the first time around.

The audio experience was also a pleasure though I am not sure that Jim Dale was the right narrator for this novel despite loving his work on the US audio editions of the Harry Potter series. I felt that he was a little too much the comedian and some of the broad accents he used, especially for the twins, detracted from the seriousness of the narrative for me.

As expected at the reading group meeting there was a strong division between those who loved the book and those who didn't fancy it at all or were critical of the style. It remains one of my favourite novels though I know it is not everyone's cup of tea.

Book 50: The Abandoned by Amanda Stevens

Book 50: The Abandoned (Graveyard Queen #0.5).
Author: Amanda Stevens, 2011.
Genre: Urban Fantasy. Ghosts.
Other Details: ebook. 73 pages.

There are rules for dealing with ghosts. Too bad Ree Hutchins doesn’t know them.... When her favorite patient at a private mental hospital passes away, psychology student Ree Hutchins mourns the elderly woman’s death.  But more unsettling is her growing suspicion that something unnatural is shadowing her. Amateur ghost hunter Hayden Priest believes Ree is being haunted. Even Amelia Gray, known in Charleston as the Graveyard Queen, senses a gathering darkness. Driven by a force she doesn’t understand, Ree is compelled to uncover an old secret and put abandoned souls to rest—before she is locked away forever… - synopsis from author's website.

This novella is the prequel to the Graveyard Queen series and I understand that it was the inspiration for the series. I decided to get it on Kindle while I was waiting for Book 2 to arrive from the USA.

I found it an interesting story, which provided a good introduction to The Restorer being set shortly before the events of that novel. However, Amelia Gray is only a supporting character and while I enjoyed it I didn't really feel it added that much to Amelia's story. I felt it set the stage for her forthcoming adventures rather than a 'must read'.

I do wonder if we will here more about Ree and Hayden in future novels in the series. I hope so.