Time is the "goon," said goons imagined here in all their potential variety: the thug kneecapping us, bursting from the alley just up ahead; the aggressive clown, playing havoc with our best-laid plans etc. Egan's novel is shaped around a number of brief glimpses of interrelated characters at various stages and in various contexts of their lives; it can (as some reviewers note, or complain) seem fragmented, but the form is the function is the content, and while I'd whine a wee bit about a couple of the chapters, overall it's no doubt a novel, and an excellent one. Moving, funny, readable... so dig in, eh? But I am particularly taken by some of the ideas underpinning the thing.
What I loved--beyond Egan's trademark wit and skill in the etching of character and culture (and their complex interrelations)--was the way she captured in her style and structure the strangeness of time and its effects. In my favorite two sections, especially: in "Safari," she offers fleeting flashforwards which define a whole future life in a paragraph, before returning to the moment--and this potentially heavy-booted approach instead provides a subtle contrapuntal beat and rhythm, deepening the family drama at the moment. A later section (about the best pauses in Rock and Roll history) is told in powerpoint slides, slyly and drily positing that children in the future will be shifting to new multimodal ways of shaping and sharing information... and it'd be a blunt bitter joke in some other writers' hands, but this chapter is just as affecting, and just as strange in its affect and effect. I think the novel is maybe always about the arc of time, and time is about change -- but rarely does the sheer jarring dizzy dangerous gooniness of time seem so central to fiction. Last year I read a science fiction novel (Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns
) which got me thinking about the sheer immensity of time, but Egan's is even more disruptively engaging.