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The Invisible Circus

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  5,724 ratings  ·  574 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 March 9th 2001 by Pan Macmillan (first published December 1st 1994)
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Average rating 3.52  · 
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 ·  5,724 ratings  ·  574 reviews

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Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
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
Jul 15, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Nov 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Katie Lumsden
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Maybe 4.5. I really enjoyed this novel - powerful, compelling, beautifully written. I didn't love it quite as much as Manhatten Beach or Emerald City, but it was still fantastic.
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
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
Feb 18, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
when I was reading I knew it'll be a definite five-star though the rating wasn't that high. I really enjoyed the reading. It was kind of fluidal, just going easily and smoothly in its bed,the picture so vivid.
In the end, slightly near the ending, it changed a bit, there was a tumult, a bit out of ordinary things happening, apparently to absorb the reader even more, but it worked vice versa and the worst part was it got predictable.
Anyhow it's a spectacular piece of writing, expertly written.
Okay, two things are clear:

1. Jennifer Egan must not be allowed to dwell onto historical fiction.
2. She is a great emotional story-teller, please go on.

3. Manhattan Beach needs rewriting.
Angela Elizabeth
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 20, 2007 rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I think Jennifer Egan is a tremendous writer. Her first book shows this talent to great effect, the first part of the book is a brilliantly sad exploration of families and the best of intentions going awry. It's smart, clever and wonderfully well written, each line packs an incredible emotional punch. It then all takes a turn into this odd love story which left me deeply unmoved. If you liked her other books, it's interesting to see how it all started.
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love books about the hippie generation. Not the political side as much as the freedom and adventure! I am obsessed with the idea of letting go and experiencing life. Which I am too rational to do myself. This book shows the paradox between the sheer beauty and danger of that crazy time period. It's about sisters and the tug of war between past and present.
Aug 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: booksread2007
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
Mar 02, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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.
Chris Dietzel
Dec 09, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this more than Egan's Manhattan Beach but not nearly as much as A Visit from the Goon Squad, which is the best book I've read from her. This story took me a while to become invested in and even longer to care about any of the characters, and that was its weak spot. However, Egan's writing itself is wonderful. I was fully invested by the end but I would have enjoyed the book much more if it came to the same conclusion without the major revelation that's given toward the end (no spoilers ...more
Jan 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Kj Andersson
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just wow.

My partner was held captive for some nights in a row by Egan, and after finishing it she promptly handed it to me, saying "this might be my new favorite book of all time." I understand that notion.

Egan manages to tell an amazingly captivating story and change her protagonist more by what she doesn't say than by what she says. There's always a reason for her characters actions, destructive as they may be, and those reason are hidden in the symbolism between the lines. That is how yo
Hannah Tighe
Well written, particularly given it's her first could see the potential for Goon Squad and Manhattan Beach. Only a 3 (possibly more like 3.5....c'mon Goodreads 🙄) because I was really irritated by most of the characters, and it felt like I wadn't supposed to be 🤷🏻‍♀️
Sep 14, 2019 marked it as never-finishing  ·  review of another edition
DNF @150 pages. My Jennifer Egan backlist journey didn’t start off well. This wasn’t bad, just quite boring. I cannot fathom reading other 200 pages.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Jennifer Egan writes very cinematically in "The Invisible Circus", so it's not a great surprise that the book became a movie (2001). By "cinematically", I mean that Egan writes vividly of the times and places that the narrative covers, allowing the reader to truly visualize the settings.

The book tells the story of 18-yr old Phoebe, who is having a little trouble finding a path through life until she suddenly decides to travel to Europe to visit all of the spots that her older sister Faith visite
May 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2008, general-fiction
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
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Flower child wanna-bes
Shelves: dark-radicals, novels
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
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: California enthusiasts, 60s enthusiasts.
Egan's writing is at times cloying and manipulative, but the beauty of her language allows the reader become seduced into the near-psychotic of the main character Phoebe, and her relationships with her deceased sister. Her journey to discover how her sister passed away can seem overwrought at times, but Egan conveys such a sense of the fantastical that the reader is willing to go along with the flow.
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
I did not care for her other book, The Keep, however, I really did enjoy this book. Phoebe lost her sister at a very young age, and she decides to travel to Europe to follow in her footsteps and discover what her last moments were like. This book contains an interesting main character, as well as fleshed out secondary characters, and excellent writing. I enjoyed it!
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
“She would stand somewhere and look back, she would live a life. Until this moment she had never truly believed it.”

Jennifer Egan’s THE INVISIBLE CIRCUS follows 18-year-old Phoebe O’Connor as she retraces her late sister Faith’s journey through Europe 8 years after she killed herself. In seeing what her sister saw during the last months of her life, Phoebe hopes to understand why it happened – or at least find peace.

First few chapters really painted Phoebe as this annoying girl who clings on the
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Jennifer Egan’s 2017 novel, Manhattan Beach, has been awarded the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Egan was born in Chicago and raised in San Francisco. She is also the author of The Invisible Circus, a novel which became a feature film starring Cameron Diaz in 2001, Look at Me, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2001, Emerald City and Other Stories, The Keep ...more

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“And sitting there, sea drifting in around them, Wolf had understood for the first time what kind of life he wanted to live with Faith. Maybe they wouldn't rise up into the sky the way he'd thought, maybe the real thing was doing what his parents had done, pay the rent, read the paper, hell, maybe that was the dare. To live--day in, day out. Just live.” 7 likes
“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
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