The Invisible Circus
The Invisible Circus
In Jennifer Egan’s highly acclaimed first novel, set in 1978, the political drama and familial tensions of the 1960s form a backdrop for the world of Phoebe O'Connor, age eighteen. Phoebe is obsessed with the memory and death of her sister Faith, a beautiful idealistic hippie who died in Italy in 1970. In order to find out the truth about Faith’s life and death, Phoebe retraces her steps from San Francisco across Europe, a quest which yields both complex and disturbing revelations about family, love, and Faith’s lost generation. This spellbinding novel introduced Egan’s remarkable ability to tie suspense with deeply insightful characters and the nuances of emotion.
After her Pulitzer Prize-winning success with A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan’s ever expanding fan club has flocked to read her earlier work. Novels Look at Me and The Keep, as well as short story collection Emerald City have all been re-issued; now comes this most recent re-release, her debut novel, The Invisible Circus.
The year is 1978: teenager Phoebe O’Connor remains obsessed with the sudden passing of her beautiful, idealistic elder sister, Faith, whose death seven years earlier while travelling in Italy, still remains a mystery.
Determined to discover the truth, and a little more about her own self along the way, Phoebe sets out to retrace her sister’s footsteps, from their childhood home in San Francisco all the way to Europe. It is a complex journey, one which unveils some rather disquieting revelations about love, family and Faith’s quixotic generation; there is certainly a strong thread of sixties radicalism flowing through the story, as Phoebe is lured by the seductive pull of the era.
While Egan’s first major work lacks the cleverness of Goon Squad’s structure, zealous fans shouldn’t be disappointed. Her prose has its usual assurance and clarity, and there is no question regarding her talent at creating believable teenagers; one can’t help but empathise with Phoebe’s confusion, with her angst and rebelliousness.
Egan also does a brilliant job of illustrating Phoebe’s journey: the descriptions of each city – London, Amsterdam, Paris, Munich – are palpable.
There may be some very coincidental moments in the plot, making certain events seem rather a little too convenient; and the story does also attempt to cover a lot of ground, as Egan sets out to depict an entire generation, rather than to simply tell a story. Nonetheless, this is fine writing, earnest to its heart.
Nicole Mansour is the Assistant Manager at Readings St Kilda
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