Sometimes...you pick up a novel and it makes your skin prickle—not necessarily because it’s a great novel qua novel, which you can’t know until the end, but because of the velocity of its microperceptions. You’ve entered elite head space of one kind or another. Jennifer Egan’s new one, The Candy House, is one of these novels. It makes you feel a bit high, drugged, and fitted with V.R. goggles, almost from the start ... You don’t have to have read Goon Squad to pick up The Candy House, but it helps. Most of the characters are back ... All sorts of strings from the earlier book are picked up and braided, twanged or cauterized ... My description...makes this sound like a clash-of-civilizations novel, or a techno nail-biter...but it doesn’t read that way: It’s more nubbly. It comes alive in dozens of entwined stories, in connections and convergences ... The Candy House is a trim 334 pages, but it has a dwarf-star density. Inside, 15 or 20 other novels are trying to climb out. The chapters are short; the tone is aphoristic; the eye for cultural and social detail is Tom Wolfe-like ... Egan has a gift for combining the outrageous and the plausible without ejecting us from the narrative ... All this is wound together; nearly everyone is somehow connected. It’s all too much, except that it isn’t ... She knows where she’s going and the polyphonic effects she wants to achieve, and she achieves them ... I could argue, I suppose, that this novel’s corners are too sharp, that it lacks a certain heft and drift. The implications of the cube on sex habits, online and off, are oddly omitted. And the ending is tapioca soft ... Always check for your wallet when a writer goes all in, as Egan does here, on the power of storytelling and of fiction. The Candy House makes that case simply by existing.
... a spectacular palace built out of rabbit holes ... Egan is after more than a cautionary tale; she is interested in describing social technology as a lived environment. She doesn’t construct a master story arc around Own Your Unconscious and its spinoffs; instead, they’re just a fact of this world, part of the stuff that goes on in the background. It’s not the A-plot, it’s the soundtrack ... Egan is a one-woman R&D department of language ... If The Candy House is less cohesive than Goon Squad, it may be because its subject is harder to get one’s arms around. The story doesn’t describe an arc so much as a network diagram; it doesn’t end, it stops. The biggest criticism I can make of The Candy House is that it kicks us out just when it seems to be getting started...But that is also the strongest praise I can give it. Egan knows that she can never offer a complete picture of the global consciousness, only an evocative impression. The challenge of a novel whose subject is, in one sense, everything is knowing what to leave out, a dilemma that The Candy House meta-acknowledges repeatedly.
... a dizzying and dazzling work that should end up on many Best of the Year lists ... The Candy House” requires exquisite attentiveness and extensive effort from its readers. But the work and the investment pay off richly, as each strain and thread and character reverberates in a kind of amplifying echo-wave with all the others, and the overarching tapestry emerges as ever more intricate and brilliantly conceived. Enacting the book’s dominant metaphor, Egan is presenting a version of Collective Consciousness: the blending and extension of selfhood across shared experience and identity. One of the book’s most fascinating implications, less patent but pervasive, is how this alternative model of perception does and doesn’t undermine traditional notions of literary consciousness ... As we follow the pebbles and crumbs Egan so cannily lays out, readers may feel at times as disoriented or wonderstruck as children making their way through a dark forest, at others electrifyingly clear-sighted, ecstatically certain of the novel’s wisdom, capacious philosophical range, truth and beauty. Charged with 'a potency of ideas simmering,' The Candy House is a marvel of a novel that testifies to the surpassing power of fiction to 'roam with absolute freedom through the human collective.'
Though the narrative swings back and forth in time—opening in 2010, going forward to the 2030s, sometimes circling back in (uploaded) memory—it’s very much involved with the here and now. It’s also surprisingly optimistic ... Egan has a remarkable facility for coming up with characters and stories. Where the form of her previous book, the historical novel Manhattan Beach (2017), constrained that side of her gifts, much of the fun of The Candy House is in seeing her use them to the full. Some of her stylistic experiments here are original, some moving, others clever but unconvincing, like her pastiche of a spy thriller or the chapter that ties all the loose ends together in a thread of old-fashioned emails. That’s not a complaint: with a book this playful and brilliant, readers’ mileage is always going to vary. And ultimately, its shape and its subject matter come together brilliantly.
Many of the characters are in difficult, ethically murky lines of tech-adjacent work ... It is Egan’s great gift that these stories nevertheless feel deeply human.The absurdist science-fiction elements act as a kind of backdrop for poignant affairs of the heart ... Ennui, lost love, a sense of too-lateness, bitterness, jealousy—these make up The Candy House. Technology infuses the themes with new and distinct angles, but they remain fundamental to how Egan sketches her fictional world ... At the heart of the novel are questions about collectivity ... Some of these same questions animated A Visit from the Goon Squad too ... But they become more explicit and fraught in The Candy House, which features a smattering of the same characters and those loosely connected to them ... At times, The Candy House suffers from a kind of sequel problem. In some ways it feels written for those in on the joke, and pieces of the plot feel dutifully rehashed, a kind of reunion tour of sorts. One wonders if a version of this novel written without the constraint of trying to replay the greatest hits of its predecessor might have more fully delivered on its potential ... Still, Egan remains a master of the form, that of the interlinked but not always connected stories, which provide glimpses of lives that are both brief and deep. She weaves them together in ways that are not obvious.
You’re likely to be as baffled as dazzled by The Candy House ... The music that ran through Goon Squad and gave the novel its melody is far harder to hear in these new chapters. Also, 12 years later, readers are less likely to be awed by literary experimentation ... But if The Candy House is less uniformly successful than A Visit From the Goon Squad, it still contains terrific parts ... Much of The Candy House takes place in a future influenced by Bix’s revolution, but the novel rarely contends with the implications of that premise for Bix’s life, the tech industry or the world shaped by it. Instead, Bix’s skin color remains about as relevant as his hair color ... Egan presumes a lot on her readers’ ability to know what she’s talking about. It would have taken so little additional information to make this more inviting that I can’t help feeling the author was overindulged by her editor ... The chapters that work best embrace their radical forms more gently — or even mock them.
I hesitate to introduce too many characters in this review because there are so many. It’s difficult at times to connect all the often interconnected dots. It’s something I initially found frustrating about this book until I put myself at peace with the fact that this is precisely what happens in real life ... I could have done without the 50 (!) pages in the form of an email exchange toward the end, which felt more gratuitous than engaging. But that said, this is a beautiful exploration of loss, memory and history, a not too subtle critique of what is lost when we live our lives online.
Mandala's inventions feel especially poignant in Egan's fictional worlds, which are so densely populated by addicts and alcoholics. These are people who don't own their pasts, in either the sense of literally remembering them, or in the sense of feeling any agency in the events of their lives. So often her characters are unable to understand or accept what happened, those crucial, ill-understood moments when everything went awry. Far from being cartoonishly evil, an obvious wrong, Own Your Unconscious has deep instinctive appeal. This is characteristic of Egan, who isn't interested in moral problems with obvious answers ... there is a persistent, lovely countermelody to the corporate project of mapping human experience and using it to predict what people will think and buy. The novel is full of people engaged in a kind of sweeter and more plaintive human algebra.
... radiant ... All of this feels more at ease than Goon Squad, a novel I’d never thought of as betraying any strain until I read The Candy House ... Egan opens windows on entrancing new worlds, in which what happened depends on who’s telling the story. A candy house, on the other hand, is just a trap. You think you’re going to eat it, but it ends up eating you.
...where reading Goon Squad felt like watching a circus acrobat pull off a flip you’ve never seen before, The Candy House has a subtler joy. Reading this book is like watching Simone Biles execute a trick that she’s crafted and polished and honed to perfection. You already know she can do it, so now the pleasure is in watching the details. Every little nuance works ... It’s the novel as daisy chain: Each chapter picks up the point of view of a supporting character from a previous chapter ... The Candy House depends for its emotional oomph not just on your having read Goon Squad, but on your memories of Goon Squad being crisp and clear — which makes sense, because while Goon Squad was about time, Candy House is about memories ... Like A Visit From the Goon Squad before it, sweeping, kaleidoscopic Candy House more than makes its case.
Egan’s great accomplishment in The Candy House—as in Goon Squad—is her steadfast commitment to flesh and blood characters, who bruise and bleed, even amidst all of the social commentary and satire ... Egan is admirably nimble delivering all of this. The Candy House easily could have wandered into 1,000-page territory, yet weighs in at just over 300, and never feels dense or turgid ... Egan’s ambitions, though, are tempered by an admirable humility, an understanding that ours is not the first generation to confront these complicated questions ... Egan masterfully balances these narrative impulses, while never forgetting that her characters can swim joyously, as well as drown. And that readers can get swept up in powerful, emotional currents, and conflicts, and quandaries.
... calling it science fiction sounds far too chilly and grim for the winding metaphysical mystery ... Here again are extravagant characters—the Malibu music moguls, murderous dictators, and flailing actresses of Goon Squad, but also suburban tennis moms, late-blooming anthropologists, and agitated tech workers whose inner worlds are no less rich and strange ... Candy, for all its dips and spins and cul-de-sacs, its brain-weevil gadgets and future shocks, does what only the best and rarest books can: peel back the thin membrane of ordinary life, and find transcendence on the other side.
Dense with characters, dizzying with subplots, The Candy House is like a Twitter timeline transposed onto the page, but self-consciously so—a meta novel about the metaverse. By bottling the vitality of the internet and letting it disrupt the flow of narrative, Egan puts on display just how much the internet has changed the way stories unfold in our lives, an exploration she began in Goon Squad. In a world where we know everyone forever, where old flames can be reignited and old wounds reopened with little more than a Facebook 'Memories' notification, our narratives have lost any clear discernible end point. We have not only lost the plot; we have lost plot, period. Egan never despairs in this chaos; if anything, she revels in the limitlessness it breathes into life; we are all just one push alert away from our own sequels, second chances, redemption stories. As she re-creates the tantalizing disorder of the internet on the page, Egan displays the capaciousness of the novel as a form, making the case for old media in this era of new ... does not dwell on social media or its potentially ill effects long enough to produce anything like ham-fisted critique. Even the concerns about data collection are tinged with marvel that people would give over so much information about themselves simply to listen to a song. The internet-ness of the novel manifests more subtly ... I scribbled in the margin: This is what novels do!
... a considerable cast of intricately connected characters shifting through different configurations in interlocking stories set in the recent past and not so distant future and told in a dizzying variety of ways ... Each has its own language, its own tropes and terms, which Egan somehow manages to use and skewer at the same time, while maintaining the mystery that makes each person unique and worth knowing. As she puts it, near the exquisitely moving conclusion of The Candy House, 'Knowing everything is too much like knowing nothing; without a story, it's all just information.'
... ultimately a darker and more disturbing book than Goon. Despite the influx of young characters, The Candy House has an old soul. A parent’s soul. Among its overwhelming questions: Why are we so willing to relinquish ourselves to technology, to give away our privacy? ... The Candy House is bursting with stories, thick with beating hearts ... The formal innovation of Goon that drew so much critical praise for Egan is repeated in Candy, but with diminished effect. Her writing still dazzles, her powers of observation remain acute. But we already know that she can build a big story from shards of small stories, so...Egan’s inventiveness is less revelatory because she raised the bar on herself. And it must be said that Candy asks a lot of its audience. The novel pulls dozens of loose threads from Goon, an inventive and complex book in its own right, and then spins them in different directions. Dare I say there’s too much story? The ambitious reader must scuttle constantly between the two texts to keep track of the vast social network Egan has assembled ... The Candy House is active, challenging work.
... the new novel-in-stories is less a sequel than a darker, more anxious remix of its predecessor. In the 12 years between novels, Egan has grown increasingly fixated on the way algorithms and social media have invaded our privacy and manipulated our behavior ... tweets are just one way Egan reprises the stylistic crazy quilt that was the hallmark of Goon Squad. She plays with fairy tales, email threads, a teenage girl’s stream-of-consciousness riffing, and more. It may be the smartest novel you read all year—if also one of the messiest, with the thinnest of connective tissue between sections ... Fiction...is the only thing that 'lets us roam with absolute freedom through the human collective,' she writes. Yet that insistence makes the diversity of characters and styles feel at times ironically one-note. Everyone is trapped in a similar mode of extremely online anxiety ... Still, Egan’s audacity is welcome.
Gone are the poignant emotional swerves and empathy for sad sacks elicited by The Goon Squad. A journey that had seemed bittersweet, plaintive, familiar yet refreshed by Egan’s singularly convoluted narrative construction—like jazz standards burnished with brilliant arrangements—now sounds depthlessly manic, like sped-up Muzak. It’s as though Egan’s ingenious technique has been streamlined for short attention spans ... The Candy House knows the techniques of The Goon Squad, but doesn’t recognize the limits of their strengths ... The Candy House goes all in on the celebrity fantasia and undermines the ordinariness ... In a novel where almost everyone’s luck has turned good, Egan’s reach for the heartstrings loses its plucking power. To compensate, she introduces satirical diversions that explore technology’s challenge to fiction ... You cannot proclaim the novel a winner, in a cardboard contest between tech and tales, while whirring along yourself on stock elements and toothless satires of bad movies. At her best, Egan has been the inventor of algorithms of rich complexity, stimulating core human yearnings through technical devices. Trying them again, but this time to evoke a triumphal register of emotions, she has proved the pertinence of Silicon Valley gospel to her fiction: To keep her audience spellbound, sitting still won’t work. She’ll have to innovate.
Mandala’s creations are perhaps outlandish, but they are only half satire. For Egan, they are also a way to explore the present quandaries of an Internet that doesn’t let anyone escape the past ... The Candy House’s narrative is a web of connections, and the threads between them are gossamer thin. Egan’s attention to each of her subjects’ motivations can seem glancing. The novel doesn’t probe in. The reader who neglects to revisit Goon Squad will find herself adrift in a sea of hazily remembered figures doing things that seem loaded with significance, but unable to recall the referents ... Egan’s prose is clean, though sentimental...but confusion abounds at the level of form ... It’s not clear what the experiment is trying to do. It’s a feint toward the problems of technology and their human costs without displaying full understanding of them ... The flashes of humanity are absent here, yet the work asks its readers to be moved by its baffling web of characters. It asks its readers to be wowed by the inventiveness, the virtuosity, of these connections. But we are not all connected in the way that The Candy House proposes ... Instead, the novel misses what does connect us. Birth, death, love, regret, suffering, family, courage, sex, humor, sickness, sensory pleasure, embarrassment, longing, and on and on. The Internet often helps us recognize those connections; in this way it’s neither good nor bad. But these kinds of mundane human connections are barely presented in The Candy House, and when they are, it is with not much depth.
Egan excels at navigating an imaginative world where the interconnected lives of the characters are examined at points of intersection over a number of decades. Interrogating our relationship with social media, gaming, alternate realities and, crucially, each other, The Candy House offers a bold, brilliant perspective on a society that feels perilously close to our own. It is not essential to have read Goon Squad in advance of embracing The Candy House but those who have will appreciate the intertextuality between both works and the recognition of characters met before ... The connections offer thematic context more than essential plot points and are a further layer of rich texture that enhance the reading pleasure for those already familiar with Egan’s world-building ... Egan has created a book akin to a concept album that is best experienced by allowing its controlled chaos to carry you along. Chasing a clear arc and a neat resolution will only lead to frustration but embracing the spectrum offers enlightenment. Intellectual, philosophical, empathetic, moving – The Candy House further cements Egan’s iconic status in contemporary literature.
It is surprising and disappointing to find that her latest novel, The Candy House, largely replicates Goon Squad’s showy set pieces and multiple narrative threads while failing to reach its emotional depths ... The radical textual shifts that follow — one chapter is told entirely in tweets, another in emails — feel dated and beneath Egan’s ability. More problematic is Egan’s tendency to define characters by typically contemporary obsessions or character tics. Perhaps she sensed that there are simply too many characters for the average reader to keep track of in a relatively short novel. Whatever the case, Egan too often resorts to a novelistic shorthand of easily recognizable types that flattens rather than deepens characterization ... For such a novel with so many characters, it also grates that we only meet the tech revolution’s materially comfortable winners ... Egan’s kaleidoscopic vision does not encompass the losers of our new economy, who, let’s face it, outnumber the winners by millions to one.
Egan’s prose is as lithe and knowing as ever, tender toward human folly, but highly aware of how flawed we all are ... Egan is too skilled a writer, and too wise a human being to lurch through the usual paces of dystopic fiction. There is no war between the eluders and the counters, no analog hero who defies mighty tech and wins. Characters and their passions and discontents rise and fall as the world changes around and through them, sometimes deeply and specifically affected by Bix’s invention and sometimes…not. Or not in any straightforward way. For them, as for us, tech and history are simply the water in which they swim ... Egan turns her utterly human characters this way and that, showing the threads that connect them and the choices that bind them, never losing sight of the fact that, like it or not, they are all part of the same vast tapestry. Pull one thread here, and another is affected over there, for better or worse. In the future, no matter their day jobs helping eluders, novelists may still be the ones who will remind us of this interconnectedness so movingly and beautifully, and as Egan does so well in these intricately woven pages.
... the new work has turned out to be a straightforward continuation of the old, with the minor characters of Goon Squad getting the kind of focus that the major characters got in the previous work ... To Egan’s credit...semi-speculative technology isn’t exactly central to the novel; it doesn’t provide a totalizing structure through which a selling premise can be easily expressed ... Still, although the presence of a connection machine here doesn’t fundamentally alter the kinds of relationships Egan focuses on—among families, exes, co-workers, and drug dealers and their customers—it does make the book feel different, and probably worse, in a helpless and inevitable kind of way ... What’s so cleverly recursive about Own Your Unconscious, equal parts Charlie Kaufman and Elon Musk, is that it allows users to see exactly whether and how things used to be different ... Egan’s relentless genre bending threatens the narrative immersion that is her greatest strength ... Egan’s tendency to explain, at least twice, the clever moves she makes is similarly deflating, and she always has to add an extra adjective, so you know the description you’re reading is not a normal description—it’s a description in a novel ... It’s unfortunate that Gregory has inherited his father’s hokey optimism, though I suspect his dad’s purple prose will serve him well on Goodreads. Things may change, but not that much. Still, it turns out Egan’s novel does have a message: novelists have always been spies, and we’re watching you.
... less a sequel to Goon Squad than a fraternal twin. Minor characters are thrust into the thick of things; formerly major characters make Hitchcockian cameos. As befits its title, The Candy House is a novel of Easter eggs – of hidden in-joke treats. It begs to be read alongside its more extroverted sibling, and to consider, in the space between them, the deflations – incremental and otherwise – of the last decade ... for all Egan’s form-elasticity – her inventive peacocking, tech speculation and bricolage – the tales that work best in The Candy House are the least flamboyant. What felt playful in Goon Squad now feels a little stale: a sustained passage of back-and-forth emails is too conveniently expository; a treatise on spycraft is an on-the-nose wallop ... Underneath all the glitz and frippery, there is something fundamentally old-fashioned about The Candy House ... It’s this insatiable – and unsatiable – yearning that The Candy House draws out so tenderly, as those children tell their feckless parents’ stories as a way to find their own, scour the great aggregate brain for signs they were loved, and reanimate a heyday they never lived.
... a confection of short storytelling, sci-fi, satire and brain-stretching ideas about consciousness. It sounds heavy but it slips down. Even its occasional dollops of sentimentality are well-measured dollops ... It is hard to pick a favourite story... They are all my contenders. The chapter of operational notes for citizen spies, set out in rudimentary verse, probably not ... What astounds is the visual brilliance of Egan’s writing across these disparate tales ... The more vivid the description, the more a chapter immerses us in the head of a character, the more it highlights the book’s central idea. Magnates such as the Boutons and Zuckerbergs believe that vast chunks of us live in similar ways and must think similar thoughts. These they commodify and exploit. Great novelists know there is more to individuals than their preferences as consumers and strive to illuminate what makes us unique ... By means probably even they cannot explain, novelists loot the experiences of others and distribute them equably with no reference to fancy uploading machines. And no one writing now does it more generously than Egan. I hope she wins another Pulitzer.
[A] heartbreaking, dazzling story of what happens when these same forces confront the might of the digital age ... Certainly, some will want to reread Goon Squad before reading The Candy House, but that’s not necessary. This is far from being a mere sequel; it’s a kaleidoscopic new offering whose beauty resides in its elliptical returns ... On top of these spinning plates, Egan occasionally plays with the form of the writing itself. One chapter is composed as an extensive list of missives, another as an email exchange. These stylistic flourishes don’t feel entirely necessary. Egan is better when she is straightforward. If such language can be undemanding, it can also be a revelation ... It is nearly impossible to read The Candy House without wondering what it would be like to download one’s own memories and store them in a box under the bed ... the form of The Candy House reflects the reality Egan conjures. This is a fractured landscape with no clear truth, where time folds into itself and technology wreaks if not havoc then a certain anesthetizing force ... To the reader, all of this has already been proven painfully true.
... not linear and only glancingly develops the sociological and psychological results of being able to download your own brain. The characters are fuller and more vivid than those in most speculative fiction, and they take a front seat to the premise. Still, the dormant sci-fi fan in me was frustrated that the ramifications of Egan’s new technology weren’t explored more completely. Those consequences the text does tease out would fit into a short story. (But a good short story) ... The certainty that this novel will flourish commercially and critically frees me to quibble. This may sound babyish, but for me there are simply too many people in this book. As I suffer from what I call Name Blindness, keeping track of dozens of characters and their complex, often tentative connections with one another gives me a headache. Granted, conceptually, Egan is building her own Collective between book covers, a buzzing, cumulative consciousness arising from this chorus of multiple voices. But a plot arc that brought the premise more fully to fruition could have entailed Own Your Unconscious having more tangible consequences for her cast. Also, the formally innovative chapters may not quite pay off. Devices can be distancing ... Enough kvetching. Humming with a sustained brio, The Candy House is especially rewarding on a micro level. Even post-BLM, Egan felt free to write from the perspective of a black character, as she should feel free, and she’s apt to get away with it, too. The chapter narrated by an autistic character is convincing. Egan is particularly good at evoking the insecure teenage girl. The writing is stylish ... The novel is spirited, playful, sometimes incisive. So who cares if I can’t remember anyone’s name.
This novel is a triumphant exploration of analogue versus digital, surveillance versus freedom, literature versus technology. Egan’s virtuosity in style and form allows her to reflect life online, her characters changing with the fluidity of a status update.
Thought-provoking ... The Candy House isn’t as good as A Visit from the Goon Squad, it’s better. Egan manages to make the book more ambitious and advanced than the novel for which she won the Pulitzer, but seamlessly incorporates the first book’s universe ... The earlier book’s minor players step into starring roles here and many small details of Goon Squad are fleshed out or, occasionally, put into an infinitely more meaningful context; Bix Bouton’s dreamy monologue during his brief appearance in the first book becomes downright prophetic after the events of The Candy House. It’s those kinds of details that will make you wish all sequels could be this satisfying.
The first chapter of Egan’s eagerly awaited sequel feels rather laboured and predictable ... A chocolate box of voices and styles ... Once this curiously lifeless opening is out of the way, Egan shifts most of the novel into the first person and it becomes instantly more engaging as a result ... Curiously Egan never makes full use of the product’s functions. We learn little about what it’s actually like to enter another person’s consciousness ... The Candy House is not a novel that provokes many new insights about the mediated lives we now lead. It also has a tendency to capture characters through their weirdest tics and compulsions. Yet it has a good humanist heart ... At its best it reads as if AM Homes, George Saunders and David Foster Wallace took turns in rewriting Middlemarch for our modern age. It’s full of melancholic commentary about the human need for redemption, reinvention and reconciliation. But I’m just not sure it contains much genuine wisdom.
One reason Goon Squad is remembered as one of the best novels of its decade, and arguably the century so far, is its virtuoso experiments with form ... The Candy House makes similar attempts to innovate ... [It] drags a little and feels superfluous; it’s as though Egan, in her determination to recapture the freewheeling spirit of Goon Squad, is doing something different for different’s sake ... But elsewhere the old magic is successfully recaptured, and for long stretches, The Candy House is just as compelling as its predecessor ... There are memorable characters ... How these characters and events all relate back to the cast of Goon Squad is too complicated to explain here, but it’s fair to say the patchwork of narratives in The Candy House doesn’t knit together with quite the same brilliance ... If the candy house here refers to the powerful allure of the internet and social media, then Egan is less sure-footed about the dangers of where it may be leading us. But she is hardly alone in that, and The Candy House mounts as strong a case as any novel from the past decade for using fiction as a way to try and figure it all out.
Fans of Goon Squad will discover new facets of familiar characters, though enjoying The Candy House does not require knowledge of the previous work ... In The Candy House, the connections among stories are complex, to say the least ... Though this book cannot be reduced to a simple protest novel, Egan makes clear her reservations about recent trends in data mining and the public’s willingness to participate in black-box customer optimization ... Egan is aware that as an author she exerts an authoritarian power over her subjects. At a minimum, Egan feels the responsibility to choose carefully, from countless available narratives, the few that are worthy of recording ... Paradoxically, The Candy House provides evidence against its own premise. Far from being reducible to stable memories and two-dimensional charts, Egan’s characters demonstrate that human nature is multiform.
Egan has ideas to burn, and in this novel that’s what she does: her painstakingly constructed backdrop has barely any impact on the book’s drama, ill served by characters reduced to a trait ... There’s a shortage of the human moments that made Goon Squad fizz ... Here, action is seen as if through gauze ... You sense the novel’s laborious scaffolding ... the sense grows that the novel’s expository heft demands too much ... Maybe the book’s biggest problem (and its point, if you’re generous) is that Silicon Valley will never be rock’n’roll. Either way, conundrums of digital-era privacy and authenticity have been better addressed in novels such as The Circle and Klara and the Sun. As for the question of whether you can read The Candy House without first reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, well... if you haven’t, you’ll probably be left baffled, but perhaps a good deal less disappointed than readers who have.
One of the pleasures of Goon Squad was the small tingle of surprise that came with the realization that a character encountered at one stage of life in an early chapter was the same character, encountered at a different stage of life, in a subsequent one. This is a pleasure that The Candy House provides in spades...so long as you’ve had time to reacquaint yourself with Egan’s back catalogue before you start ... The prevailing mode is a sort of chatty realism, full of comic lifts and emotional plunges. There is no engagement with the philosophical questions and formal opportunities thrown up by Own Your Unconscious...which a straight-up science-fiction novel would have been certain to address ... Egan does the realist thing exceedingly well, and the individual chapters are unfailingly lively and engaging. Even so, there is something strangely cramped about this novel by comparison to Goon Squad. It’s partly that the structure no longer feels so unusual. But it’s also that the canvas has shrunk ... Egan seems anxious to press the disparate episodes into the service of a bigger message. There are increasingly obtrusive homilies about the value of literary fiction, which hardly seems like a sign of self-confidence in a literary novelist ... Having established that books are basically good, she puts them into bat against Own Your Unconscious. You might imagine that the latter’s victories over Alzheimer’s and child pornography would give it something of an advantage in this match up, but you’d be wrong ... So, in a heavily stage-managed contest between fiction and a fictional technology, fiction wins. Hooray! But what if there weren’t any gaps in the Collective Consciousness? Could the literary novel survive in such a world? Frankly, if its response boiled down to a bald assertion of its superiority over the new technology, I’m not sure it would deserve to. If, on the other hand, it tried to interrogate the full consequences off such a huge technological development, and to take seriously the possibilities of future developments – if it looked to science fiction as a model of inquiry, rather than just as a repository of tropes, in other words – there seems no reason why it shouldn’t thrive.
If, as Egan said, Goon Squad was inspired by Marcel Proust and The Sopranos, The Candy House reads like what might have happened had Thomas Pynchon been in the writers’ room for the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That… (not necessarily a bad thing), with Egan both a streetwise satirist and a sensitive chronicler of the way people age ... When Egan lets fly with this kind of hypnotic stream-of-consciousness narration, she is like an improvising jazz musician, taking readers on a revelatory ride. I wish she would stick with one protagonist for an entire novel in this mode and drop the stale experiments ... At the level of the sentence, The Candy House zings, but it does not cohere as successfully as its sibling. I became lost in passages of brilliance, but there is also a sense of Egan working through artistic difficulties ... If it were a record, The Candy House would be an album of
demos and outtakes – of interest to completists, but perhaps not to anyone else.
The Candy House stands on its own, but I would recommend giving yourself the pleasure of reading (or re-reading) Goon Squad first ... As unique, propulsive and readable as ever, Egan has crafted another work with layers of meaning that deserves to be read and re-read for years to come. Egan proved with Goon Squad that she was at the vanguard of the future of fiction. The Candy House shows she isn’t ready to give up that position any time soon.
In this bustling, multifaceted report on contemporary consciousness, Egan more than delivers on her claims. In particular, she shows herself to be both shrewd and adept at assembling the right characters to develop her themes. She opens a window not just to the America that is, but the America that may very well come to be ... In the tradition of the realist novels of the 19th century, the cast of The Candy House is wide and varied. The way Egan deploys her cast, however, does not conform to the two dominant patterns we are familiar with: the hero narrative, where a single character provides a framing narrative arc that pulls the whole together ... There are no neat character arcs to resolve, no pat lessons to be learned. Rather, she creates a finely woven mesh of resonant experiences...exchanged between people variously connected ... But in spite of all the angst (or maybe because of it), there are sections of great emotional beauty throughout the novel ... It is clear that Egan is also calling in an older tradition of literary innovation: postmodernism’s domineering big brother, high modernism ... It is a risky move to associate yourself with a text as canonical as Ulysses, but I think it is justified. The Candy House’s inventiveness points a way forward for the novel as a genre. It suggests how the novel can be made new again ... Yet for all the unstable ontologies and splintered subjectivities that Egan captures so well, her sensibility manages to evoke a great sense of vitality and energy. In Egan’s universe, people never stop trying to love, to learn, to help, to discover, to seek joy and wonder.
... spirals rapidly outward in what feels like barely-controlled chaos ... Ultimately, this is not a book reliant on plot – though the story Egan has crafted is plenty compelling, make no mistake – but rather about the in-the-moment reading experience. As we are pulled through the varying perspectives, with the connections – some overt, others subtle – playing out contextually, we’re steadily eased into the rich depths of the world that has been built for us. We come to exist in this place, a place that is different from where we are, but not so different that we’re unable to conceive of the path from here to there ... In this crazy-quilt patchwork, we’re left to live within the parameters of the experiences of the extensive dramatis personae. There’s something truly remarkable about it all; while one might have moved across immense distances in both time and space in the matter of just a few chapters, the line connecting the book’s beginning and end remains unbroken ... Egan is unafraid to challenge the reader, trusting that we will be willing and able to go along for the ride. There’s something deeply satisfying about that trust; it allows us to fully invest ourselves in the experience ... It's rare to realize in the moment that you’re reading a book that you’ll never forget. But that’s what it was like, working my way through The Candy House. The combination of story and storytelling is something that feels both foreign and familiar, an evolution of sorts. Egan doesn’t make it easy on the reader, but that’s by design – and it is undeniably worth the effort.
So much has been written about tech’s golden gods, real or otherwise, that I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that it wasn’t going to be just some Google spinoff guy’s adventures in 21st-century creativity ... As she wrests the idea of normalcy from us, she presents a multicolored realistic mural of all the ways in which our most prevalent memories just may be the ones from our most difficult times ... In her inventive but easy-to-read style, Egan offers us her own response to the mental hits that we all took during the pandemic ... his is what makes the book such a fascinating read.
Egan returns to the interlocking narrative structure of A Visit from the Goon Squad, once again embracing the distilled power of short fiction in individual chapters while subtly allowing the distinct, imaginative parts to crescendo into a sterling sum ... This work is a more straightforward narrative, albeit rendered wonderfully kaleidoscopic ... But nothing here is about mere showmanship; everything is both imaginative and utilitarian, including its shape-shifting style, which regularly jumps between tenses, distinctive voices, and even forms ... The result is something of a mosaic, each meticulously rendered chapter feeling nested within the others rather than simply lashed together ... A forceful, wonderfully fragmented novel of a terrifyingly possible future, as intellectually rigorous as it is formally impressive, and yet another monumental work from Egan.
Eagan...returns to the stylistic brio and edgier substance of Goon Squad with a novel that revives many of the characters of its literary soulmate while using them to explore a set of fresh and compelling themes ... The Candy House holds a mirror up to contemporary society while simultaneously casting a skeptical eye on a future that may already be here. Readers who delighted in the ingenuity of A Visit from the Goon Squad will luxuriate in this novel's Easter eggs and the many plot elements and character appearances that echo across the novel's pages to forge connections over time and space, making the urge to reread it immediately almost irresistible. While its sensibility is coolly observant, at its center is a warm, strongly beating heart.
... less a sequel than a continuation of themes, offering a bold imagining of the lures and drawbacks of technology through a lively assortment of narrative styles ... for the most part, Egan keeps the novel moving through relatable territory, as universal access to personal memories proves, unsurprisingly, to be as disruptive as it is tantalizing ... Egan’s bold appropriation of narrative styles, like the use of first-person plural and chapters written in tweets and text messages, gives the novel a glittering, kaleidoscopic quality. But Egan’s empathetic interest in human behavior is what drives The Candy House, making it more than just a literary experiment. As Bix’s son Greg points out, you don’t need access to Collective Consciousness to fully experience another person’s memories, thoughts and perceptions; fiction can do the same thing ... A startling novel written by an author at the top of her game, The Candy House never loses sight of fiction’s superpowers.
... this novel excoriates the desire of tech companies to quantify everything and warns about unthinkingly taking a bite from the seemingly free 'candy house' offered by such companies. Haunting and often hilarious, this is a wondrous, riotously inventive work of speculative fiction that celebrates the power of the imagination in the face of technology that threatens to do our thinking for us.
An electrifying and shape-shifting story that one-ups its Pulitzer-winning predecessor ... Egan cleverly echoes the ambitious, savvy marketing schemes of real-world tech barons ... Twisting through myriad points of view, narrative styles, and divergent voices, Egan proves herself as perceptive an interpreter of the necessity of human connection as ever, and her vision is as irresistible as the tech she describes. This is Egan’s best yet.
Egan is perfectly capable of writing a satisfying traditional novel, but she really dazzles when she turns her formidable gifts to examining the changes to society and individuals wrought by the internet and social media ... Egan doles out information in small bites that accumulate to demonstrate the novel’s time-honored strengths: richly complicated characters and compelling narratives. The final chapter rolls back to 1991 to movingly affirm the limits of floods of undigested information and the ability of fiction, only fiction, to 'roam with absolute freedom through the human collective' ... A thrilling, endlessly stimulating work that demands to be read and reread.