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Book reviews: The Candy House and Eyes of the Void

A young female spy carries out a mission, and the second part in a sci-fi trilogy sees humanity and its allies under threat.

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan is out now (Corsair)

Jennifer Egan never stops moving. She slips constantly between viewpoints and characters and tenses. Individual chapters are treated as opportunities for experiment and fun – perhaps delivered in the form of a series of emails or in text speak or as a PowerPoint display or, at one point in The Candy House, her new novel, as a series of gnomic, single-sentence instructions to a young female spy as she carries out her mission.

Egan’s books move through time and back again, her characters making use of existing technology and smart tech of the near future. She is like a hyperactive optometrist, constantly testing the reader “how about this?… and now this?… and what about this?” She is the White Album of novelists. 

In the hands of a lesser writer it could all feel a bit much, a bit wearying and disorientating, irritatingly show pony. But there is nothing showy about Egan. She never loses her balance as a writer, or her grip of the whole, and the innovations never crowd the reader. Everything is in the service of plot and character. Her restlessness delights rather than dismays. 

The Candy House is her sixth novel and is a companion of sorts to her biggest hit, the Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad. Like its predecessor it is neither wholly dystopian or utopian, but follows its characters’ attempts to make sense of modern life and the perceived loss of intimacy, purpose and meaning. They are able to make use of a “Mandala box”, in which users upload their unconscious, and are in turn given access to the lifelong unconscious of others. We’ve all wondered “whatever happened to so-and-so?”, and now there’s a technology that lets you find out.  

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It’s a curious truth that in an era when we’ve never been more connected, or communicated more frantically with one another, we are somehow lonelier than ever and more likely to struggle with our mental health. We know that the hours spent ranting and doom-scrolling on Twitter are ultimately meaningless, mere displacement activity which has trapped us in some sort of exploitative capitalist web. But we don’t seem to know what to do about it, or indeed what we would do without it. As Egan writes, “Knowing everything is too much like knowing nothing; without a story, it’s all just information.” 

The Candy House posits the questions: do memory and nostalgia hold solutions to what ails us? Can they reconnect us to one another in meaningful fashion? Egan doesn’t have the answers, but she, and we, have a grand time on the journey. 

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Eyes of the Void by Adrian Tchaikovsky is out now (Tor)

There are journeys and journeys – like Egan, Adrian Tchaikovsky explores the life of the mind, but also takes us on a more literal trip across the universe. Eyes of the Void is the second book in his Final Architecture trilogy, which may be the most intricate and profound work currently underway in science-fiction. Tchaikovsky is a true sci-fi great. 

In this vast follow-up to the equally vast Shards of Earth, the unknowable, planet-destroying Architects once again threaten the existence of humanity and its allies, who have spread themselves across space in an effort to survive. Should they stand and fight or seek to understand and head off the enemy? Meanwhile, the politics between the allies grow ever more toxic. Amid war in Ukraine, these are not matters solely for fiction.   

Chris Deerin is a journalist and director of Reform Scotland

You can buy The Candy House and Eyes of the Void from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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