The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: Bold and brilliant

Book review: Latest novel from A Visit from the Goon Squad author interrogates our relationship with social media, gaming and alternate realities

The Candy House
The Candy House
Author: Jennifer Egan
ISBN-13: 978-1472150912
Publisher: Corsair
Guideline Price: £0

The seventh novel from American author Jennifer Egan is presented as a sibling novel to her Pulitzer-Prize winning work A Visit from the Goon Squad. Set in 2010 the narrative centres on the impact of a new technology, Own your Unconscious, that allows users to access all of their memories and engage in memory exchanges with others.

Egan excels at navigating an imaginative world where the interconnected lives of the characters are examined at points of intersection over a number of decades. Interrogating our relationship with social media, gaming, alternate realities and, crucially, each other, The Candy House offers a bold, brilliant perspective on a society that feels perilously close to our own.

It is not essential to have read Goon Squad in advance of embracing The Candy House but those who have will appreciate the intertextuality between both works and the recognition of characters met before. One such example is Bix Bouton, the tech entrepreneur who invents Own Your Unconscious, who has capitalised on his obsession with the internet in the 1990s that we briefly encountered in the original novel. The connections offer thematic context more than essential plot points and are a further layer of rich texture that enhance the reading pleasure for those already familiar with Egan’s world-building.

Chasing a clear arc and a neat resolution will only lead to frustration but embracing the spectrum offers enlightenment

The novel’s purpose feels less like a hyperbolic attack on the perils of tech and more a meditation on the enduring need for real human connection. What is of most importance are the memories themselves, our essential need to create a narrative for our past, and how what we remember informs who we are. The technology is more of a conduit for these conversations than the talking point itself.


Egan has created a book akin to a concept album that is best experienced by allowing its controlled chaos to carry you along. Chasing a clear arc and a neat resolution will only lead to frustration but embracing the spectrum offers enlightenment. Intellectual, philosophical, empathetic, moving – The Candy House further cements Egan’s iconic status in contemporary literature.

Helen Cullen

Helen Cullen

Helen Cullen, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a novelist and critic