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The Invisible Circus

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  3,347 ratings  ·  352 reviews
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 ret ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 9th 2007 by Anchor (first published December 1st 1994)
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Egan's freshman novel, about a girl who, along with her widowed mother, is frozen in time since the suicide of her hippie sister the decade before. Set in 1970s San Francisco and Europe, where the protagonist traces her sister's footsteps. Started off a bit rough but it's smooth now, and quite vivid. One scene on the beach with the sisters and the dying father made me put the book down for a few days -- the narrator's childhood memory was so real and painful. By the end, Phoebe has shed a great ...more
I like Jennifer Egan's writing, in its fluidity. The story itself often makes me feel like I am swimming in words. But sometimes, I feel like I am being deceived - the characters only appear to have complexity and vulnerability. It is like watching a movie that you like because it has a lovely way of unfolding, but there is nothing that will linger, afterwards. I feel often like the language is much more meaningful than the meaning it is trying to (or not trying to) convey.
If you're coming to The Invisible Circus after reading A Visit from the Goon Squad or The Keep, as I did, you're likely to be disappointed. It's different kind of book, more straightforward, with all the earmarks of a novel whose protagonist, Phoebe, is destined to lose her innocence.

“The dullness of Phoebe’s bedroom met her like a blow: polar bear wallpaper, rows of faded stuffed animals, a wicker chair that crackled when you sat in it.”

After graduating from high school, Phoebe decides to trave
I love Jennifer Egan. I read her books in reverse order (starting with 'The Keep', then 'Look At Me', and then 'Invisible Circus'). I love that she explores different themes in each book -- all three are very different. 'Invisible Circus' gets a firm 3 stars from me. I loved the overall feeling of living in the world during a time of great change, but not being able to identify just what it is that is happening even though you still want to be a part of it. Still, she uses a lot of exposition an ...more
Finished this book at 1AM. Jennifer Egan is such a beautiful writer, it' almost inconceivable. It is perhaps problematic to read "The Keep" prior to her other novels, because "The Keep" is so perfect, what with the castle and the baroness and the prison writing program and the descriptions of really good food. "The Invisible Circus" had lost revolutionaries, which are like kryptonite to me--I'm powerless to resist their appeal (is kryptonite appealing to those it renders powerless?). But also, i ...more
After a promising start, this book failed to go anywhere. I lost all patience with the annoying main character, and really had no interest in her quest to find "answers" about her sister after awhile. Her naivete grew wearying, and I longed for the ability to reach between the pages and slap her.

Egan has a gift for description, but needs work on her pacing. Perhaps that improved with her subsequent works.
This book was recommended by a friend. I see now that it is in part 'her story', i.e. dead father, suicide sister, etc. so I'm not surprised that she enjoyed it. I, however, feel that I learned absolutely nothing from this book. The main character is an immature young woman, self-indulgent, self-referential, passive-aggressive in her behavior, not particularly likeable. The dead sister's boyfriend is a typical predatory male of the 'I couldn't help myself' variety, prepared to hit the road on a ...more
Phoebe lives most of her life reeling from the grief of having lost her father and then her older sister, Faith, before she reached her adolescence.

Her sister was a flower child and fell to her death from a cliff in an Italian seaside town. At the age of 18, Phoebe decides to pursue her sister's ghost through Europe to see if she can decipher what really happened to her.

She explores the shadows of the 60s and the flower children and skirts the memories of her childhood. This book is an excellent
This is a wonderfully descriptive book, set in the late 70´s. Phoebe has just finished high school and sets out on an impromptu quest to find out more about how her sister died. She heads to Europe, following the path her sister made years before.

The story is rich, both historically and in terms of her own and her sister´s internal/emotional struggles. I imagine that most who read this would be able to relate on some level to the insecurities and difficulties that the characters face. And, if no
Angie Andrewes
Pat Conroy is quoted as having said about Egan's precocious debut that 'if there were any justice in the world, no one would be allowed to write a first novel of such beauty and accomplishment.' I completely agree! I wouldn't say 'The Invisible Circus' is perfect, but it comes very damn near. It's a story about love and loss, about growing up and about all those significant things in life. It circumnavigates the globe and transcends time, taking its young heroine from San Francisco to the mounta ...more
Jennifer Egan is one of my favorite authors. Like many readers, I was wowed by "A Visit from the Goon Squad" (2010), but I was dazzled just as much by the novel that preceded it, "Look at Me" (2001), whose intricate plot is part thriller, part social satire, and part multi-layered identity drama. In addition to being stylistically unique, the narratives in both these previous books shift around in time, even looking ahead into the near future. "Look at Me" was even uncannily prescient about Face ...more
And unbelievable first novel, yet I was only familiar with Egan's later works, and was anticipating the audacious intellectual flights of fancy of, LOOK AT ME, or the intricately and bizarrely plotted story-line of, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. However, THE INVISIBLE CIRCUS is a very solid and readable examination of a family, and how the mood and tone of the radical sixties changed them forever. Although, the focus is on this particular family dynamic, the book also operates as a metaphor to de ...more
Kit Fox
Like, oh my god. This soooo reminds me of the time I deferred my enrollment at U.C. Berkeley to go traipsing around Europe in an attempt to retrace the footsteps of my crazybeautiful older sister who's untimely suicide from an Italian sightseeing spot served as the catalyst for my burgeoning maturity and stuff. And I slept with people. (Sorry.) Just a pretty obvious "good but not great" first novel from a young author; super heavy on extraneous descriptions of buildings/cafes/European streets th ...more
May 28, 2007 Christine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Flower child wanna-bes
Shelves: novels, dark-radicals
The protagonist, a teenager living in San Fran in the early 70s, has lived her entire life in the shadow of her flower-child older sister, who has long been dead due to mysterious circumstances.

In what turned out to be an extremely satisfying coming-of-age novel, she goes to find out what happened, travelling to Europe in her sisters footsteps and encountering bohemian characters (and sometimes tragic burnouts, junkies and users) from her sister's life. The mystery's resolution was surprising t
So beautiful. The main character is terribly young and selfish, but the writing is gorgeous and the emotions so palpable it was impossible not to feel for her. If only in real life you could have that clarity of thought about what you’re experiencing at each moment. I cried my eyes out.
Ayelet Waldman
I think I read this years and years ago but I remembered nothing. Why is it that I retain so little, even from books like this one, which I enjoyed? I’m so envious of people who can recall with amazing accuracy everything that they’ve ever read.
Pretty disappointing. I loved Good Squad and thought her style was really interesting so I randomly picked another one by her. It seemed pretty interesting at first, with an interesting premise of a girl living in the shadow of her dead sister – a flower child of the 60s – (and father) and deciding to go to Europe to follow her final trek. However, it just seemed that the entire story, built on and revolving around a character who is never alive, really bogs down. The character Phoebe doesn’t re ...more
All of the quotes on the front and back cover promised this would be a "brilliant," "mesmerizing," and "emotional" book about an 18-year-old who backpacks across Europe tracing her dead older sister's path to the place in Italy where she committed suicide.

Instead, I found it dull, predictable, and irritating. The main character, Phoebe, is woefully naive to the point where I had absolutely no sympathy for her. I wanted to smack her and yell at her to grow up. The plot twist at the beginning Par
Victoria Savanh (Tin House Books Intern): A few months ago I picked up all of Jennifer Egan’s novels, beginning with Look at Me and now ending with her first novel, The Invisible Circus. It’s 1978 and Phoebe leaves foggy San Francisco to retrace her romantic hippie sister Faith’s path through Europe, eight years after Faith died in Italy. The Invisible Circus confronts memory and grief, the end of the 60s, and strikes a perfect balance between nostalgia and reality. While Phoebe’s insecurity is ...more
i was so blown away by 'a visit from the goon squad' that i wanted to read egan's entire oeuvre. this is her first book and it is amazing. i really fell in love with the writing and the characters. i think it's the hardest thing to create flawed characters and make you love them. the relationships between everyone in the family are really heartbreaking. it made me think how hard it is to have kids and not depend on them for your happiness. there's a fine line between being proud of them and bein ...more
It's not A Visit from the Goon Squad--not by a long shot. Sensitively written in many parts, a little self-indulgent in others. In my creative writing class, a friend of mine used to call things like this "fantasy stories"--the romantic trip through Europe (where everything seems mysteriously paid for), the wildly passionate affair with a sensitive (slightly) older man, the drug- and wine-fueled (somewhat strained) self-discovery.

Although Phoebe's never-ending gaze into her own psyche seems auth
Jed (John) Edwards
The title refers partly to a Diggers' sponsored happening in late 1960s San Francisco, which was a strong influence on the book's characters Wolf and Faith. Faith is the dead older sister of the main character Phoebe, who, after graduating from high school in 1978, flies off to Europe following the trail of Faith's postcards from eight years before. The title also refers to the reverberations from the '60s felt as inner turmoil in younger brothers and sisters who weren't quite old enough to be t ...more
The beginning of Egan's novel quickly engages the reader and surpringsly connects you to the main character Phoebe, who in real life you may never notice. While I thought Egan did a good job of going back and forth in time with narrative, beautifully describing parts of Eurpoe and San Fransico and depicting the rough waters of adolescent in the shadow of a larger than life older sibling the story seems to fall apart midway through. The story takes on an almost forced turn with Phoebe's love stor ...more
Marie Ferreboeuf
I picked this up at the library because I wanted to read "Welcome to the Goon Squad" for which Egan won a Pulitzer. Boy, I hope she'd got better quickly! The plot is silly. Young woman sets off to find out why her sister committed suicide years ago. She had postponed her life in order to find out. She discovers, after having a romance novel affair with her sister's ex-pat ex-boyfriend that the suicide was an act of contrition for killing a janitor by planting a bomb for some German militant grou ...more
Laura Trachtman
I picked this book to listen to on a recent road trip because I loved Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. Her writing is inventive, fresh and a little edgy. In The Invisible Circus, 18-year old Phoebe wants to understand the death of her older sister, Faith. Phoebe embarks on a journey though Europe, retracing her sister's path. Along the way, she learns about her self, has a scary acid trip, finds love (maybe more like lust) and is able to finally put her sister's death in some kind of perspect ...more
3.5 stars. I found so much about this novel to love and admire. Egan swept be away into Phoebe's dreamlike quest to truly discover her deceased sister. I really identified with that young girl feeling that the "real world" must be just around the corner if you searched hard enough, or pushed yourself, or just stopped being afraid.

But it just went on and on. After the half way point I sort of wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up. And, once again, the narrator's characterizations got in the
A friend recommended this to me years ago, and while at that time I was not as enthusiastic about it as she was, it stuck with me and I wanted to read it again (which led to my reading Egan's other books as the library owned those). While the character of Phoebe often comes across as naive and stubbornly obsessed, which doesn't always make her very appealing (the reader can get impatient with her), that's not so odd in a girl of 17 or 18. The novel definitely captures something of the experience ...more
Very engaging story of a younger sister who misses the flower children days by a few years who attempts to inject more meaning into her existence by tracing her sister's footsteps in Europe to find a stronger connection to her as well as more info about her death. A great deal of interior monologue-- probably too much--but nonetheless a strong narrative, albeit with some implausible plot twists. Compelling, at times erotic, and one of the best acid trip descriptions (terrifying) I've read. Anoth ...more
Albert  Gubler
The Invisible Circus has wonderful passages and is a fascinating coming-of-age story.

The book tells the story of Phoebe O'Connor, an eighteen year old girl who follows the footsteps of her deceased elder sister in Europe. The shadow of Faith looms over her on every step she takes during her long journey through the continent.

I'm not used to fiction anymore and had to get used to the slower pace (compared to YA) at first. Ms. Egan takes her time to describe the relationships and situation of the
Oh I read this over and over until it became a comfort read, until I got a little older and could see the cracks in the story and read while at the same time analyzing why I enjoyed it so much. Egan has grown so much as a writer since this book... but it's kind of like a favorite pair of jeans for me. I don't think I have my copy anymore, but it's one of those books I practically memorized. There are beautiful and heartbreaking passages, it's a lovely coming-of-age, opening-of-eyes story.
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Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago and raised in San Francisco. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and St John's College, Cambridge.

She is the author of three novels, The Invisible Circus, Look at Me, a finalist for the National Book Award, and the bestselling The Keep, and a short story collection, Emerald City. She has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper's, McSweeney's and
More about Jennifer Egan...
A Visit from the Goon Squad The Keep Look at Me Emerald City Black Box

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“They sat in silence. Feathers, Phoebe thought, searching in vain for some moment of her own that could rival the beauty and mystery of Faith's act. She felt a disappointment so familiar it was almost a comfort.” 3 likes
“This vision tumbled over Phoebe with the force of revelation: she would stand somewhere and look back, she would live a life.” 3 likes
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