By Jennifer Egan
The long-awaited novel from the bestselling author of Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon SquadTweet
Really enjoyed this precisely written novel set in 1930's USA. It's a great story that captures well what it was like to live at that time with my favourite parts being about how the heroine, Anna, manages to navigate her way through the dominant and patronising patriarchy to become a diver in the naval base. There's much more to the book than that, of course, with her disabled sister needing full time care, her father being part of a shady underworld and, later, the merchant navy, personal relationships being always under scrutiny and so much more. Each of these aspects is described with a clarity that lifts them from the page and makes a fabulously entertaining read. Highly recommended.
This book was a good read but hard to get through at times. This was affirmation of the work of women in America during the second world war. I found the subject matter interesting but thought the characters could have been fuller formed. The book started and finished well but I struggled to get through the middle. Yes, I enjoyed the read but felt it overlong and for this reason would not rush to recommend it to my friends. Good idea but did not quite reach it’s potential.
Anna is the daughter of Eddie, a man who has become involved in America’s murky underworld during the Great Depression. As a child Anna was devoted to her father and often accompanied him on “business” visits. One of these was at the house of a wealthy business man named Dexter Styles. Fast forward 5 years and WW2 is in full swing, Eddie has disappeared without trace (presumed dead), Anna has become a feisty but lonely adult who is working at a Naval Yard and is determined to succeed in a man’s world and Dexter Styles is still in a powerful position working on the shady side of the law. Things start to get complicated and this is the story of what happens next.
Although I enjoyed this book I don’t think that it is beyond reproach. It has a well conceived plot which didn’t seem to have any major flaws, and on the whole it is interesting and comes complete with tension, secrets and lots of other ingredients which contribute to a good read. My main criticism is that the characters are not very well developed. I didn’t really feel like I got to know any of them, not even Anna, the main character. Nor did I feel that any of them had coherent, complete, believable personalities that I could relate to. This could be because they are inhabiting a world which is a million miles away from my life experience and culture, but my instinct tells me that it is a weakness on the part of the author, either because she has not spent enough time acquainting herself with the characters and really getting inside their heads or because making them come alive on the written page is not her forte. A secondary criticism is that although I unquestionably enjoyed the book, much of this opinion is formed in hindsight. At the time of reading, I found that the start was very encouraging – easy to get into initially with the potential for a good story. I then began to struggle and felt that things deteriorated to such an extent that I found it sluggish, dull, hard work and a bit boring. However, when it got going again it surpassed itself, offering intrigue, suspense and a whole lot more so this was a definite plus point and well worth waiting for. This pattern repeated itself throughout the book, making it a little inconsistent in terms of interest, intrigue and overall enjoyability.
On the whole I think I would recommend this book, but not whole-heartedly. Jennifer Egan is an author I have not come across before, but I would be interested in trying another one of hers if it came my way.
Manhattan Beach was our book for January and created a fabulously rich discussion point for our meeting here's what we thought;
"I really enjoyed the book. The characters were very complicated and I was engrossed and engaged throughout. I learnt a lot about diving and gang culture and the American's version of "winning the war". The writing was extremely lyrical and all "ends" tied up very well."
"Complex, haunting and intriguing. A reasonable insight into a family's life during a difficult time period"
"An excellent read. Kept my attention throughout the book. So descriptive and interesting about life in America during depression and second world in the novel dockyard."
"Excellent novel-the heaviness of history and gangsterdom pervaded the story to great effect. It seemed that all the main characters were motivated by the need to escape from something, Anna is a strong lead character and very sympathetic."
"The characters were well written and the language used in the descriptions painted vivid pictures that were real and believable."
"Overall I really enjoyed the book although I found it hard for the first few chapters. Anna came across as very strong, independent, fierce woman who was brave to challenge societies views about women. Her determination was inspiring."
"Complicated and profound- not a book to skip through! Many plots that all became interwoven"