Sean's Reviews > The Invisible Circus

The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
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Jun 01, 2012

liked it

I love Jennifer Egan, but this one, her first novel, was just okay. The prose was graceful, but the characters never quite came into focus, and I don't know...I guess I just don't care about the sixties. At least not in terms of "what it all meant," because I guess I don't think it meant much of anything. The idealism of the time never seemed to have a real direction or purpose to it, which I think is why it curdled so easily into nihilism, self-indulgence, and violence. Actually, it's not that the sixties didn't mean anything so much as my view of the counterculture of that time and where it went wrong was pretty settled before I read one word of this book, and Egan didn't bring any new insight here.

There was an interesting idea here in the concept of a main character who doesn't make much of an impression on the people around her, who is like a ghost in her own life, but it seemed to me that this idea got lost somewhere in the middle of the book. That's too bad, because the way the protagonist seemed marginal to everyone in her own life at the beginning of the book reminded me of how I felt when I was her age (18). It sounds like typical, overdramatized teenage angst, but I really did feel like I didn't matter to anyone at that time or make any impression at all, like I was invisible or simply unreal. It wasn't just a pose or a phase. Egan captured the way I felt then with her protagonist in the early chapters, but then didn't seem to develop that at all, or at least not in a way that felt like development. The Invisible Circus, basically, is a typical first novel by an up-and-coming writer, showing signs of promise and an interesting new voice, but not quite there yet. If you're starting with Egan, try Look at Me or A Visit from the Goon Squad instead. Save this one for when you've read everything else by Egan and you still want more.
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