Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett (http://barbarascottemmett.blogspot.co.uk/) author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: Don't expect another Visit from the Goon Squad from Jennifer Egan – Manhattan Beach is an entirely different beast altogether. Set in the hungry 30s and wartorn 40s, it is the story of the Kerrigan family, told mainly through the eyes of Anna, the elder daughter.

Anna works at the US Naval Yard, sizing parts for ships – an important but repetetive job. She dreams of becoming a diver, of donning the diving 'dress' and going down to fix ships below the waterline. Her chance comes when the war starts to cut down the numbers of good male divers. Anna fights prejudice at work through the day and helps her mother care for her disabled sister, Lydia, at night. Her father, Eddie, whose story this also is, has disappeared.

Eddie operates on the fringes of the mob. Involved first with the Irish longshoremen and waterfront tough guys, he hooks up with Dexter Styles, a man who himself straddles the divide between legitimacy and criminality. Styles runs nightclubs for Mr Q, an aging Italian mobster. Eddie becomes his bagman.

Slow to start, this novel gradually pulled me in. At first it seemed as though nothing much was happening and at times I had very little sense of where it was going. Once I became involved in it, however, I realised that the book was a kind of experiment, an attempt perhaps at the Great American Novel. It is a Moby Dick of a book: we get long (possibly overlong) accounts of war work, diving, shipboard life; we learn intricate details of how people lived – what they ate, drank, wore, played with as children.

Detail is piled on detail and it will depend on the reader whether this is seen as an added richness or an irritating diversion. I was, at times, torn between these views but overall came down on the side of richness. Once one gives in and goes with it, rewards are reaped. I don't think Manhattan Beach fully works as a 'great' novel but it is a valiant attempt.

I received an ebook of this novel from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like:
Lots of detail.

Avoid if you dislike:
Slow burners.

Ideal accompaniments: "Here Comes the Navy" by The Andrews Sisters

Genre:
Historical/Literary Fiction.

2 comments:

  1. I'll have to put this on my list.

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