The Candy House
April 5, 2022 1:54 PM - Subscribe

"The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is 40, with four kids, restless, desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. It’s 2010. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious”—that allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes. But not everyone."

"In spellbinding interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also extraordinarily moving, a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption. In the world of Egan’s spectacular imagination, there are “counters” who track and exploit desires and there are “eluders,” those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of narrative styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter and a chapter of tweets."
posted by MonkeyToes (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Candy House is a sister novel to Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, and readers of the first book will be glad to see so many familiar faces. Can you read The Candy House cold? Yes. But it's better and more poignant when the characters are already known--and Egan's gift is in giving them even more complex interior lives than before, as she weaves them in and out of each other's lives.

The technological marvel/MacGuffin of The Candy House is the Mandala Cube, which allows users to externalize their consciousness. All of it. Every memory, every fleeting impression, every secret feeling of every situation. All laid bare when people can opt to upload their internal lives to be shared with the world. There's very little discussion of the how, and it doesn't really matter--because the novel is an exploration of what happens when we give in to the temptation of nostalgia and how that surrender can be exploited for profit. We want to be known, to be connected, but at what cost? And in what ways? And who gets to control those processes? And (in a meta sense) how can this urge be satisfied more authentically over time, through gate-kept technology or in the greater freedom of fiction?

I loved it--gorgeous writing, amazing juggling of storylines, terrific variety of voices, and, no matter the perspective, told from inside the hearts and minds of full individuals. (Oddly, it reminds me of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway in these respects.) Wonderful on its own, but taken together with Goon Squad, it's a shimmering universe of reflections on connection. I think it's going to be one of the year's best novels, and one I'll revisit every few years.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:15 PM on April 6, 2022

I didn't end up being as taken with this one as I was with A Visit From The Goon Squad. Ultimately, I thought this one felt more scattered and didn't add up to as much. The questions MonkeyToes brings up above seemed barely to be raised, much less explored.

Some of the narratives were quite good, while others were less so. Likewise, some did bring up interesting ideas (for example, can narratives be reduced to a simple code?), while others meandered around without going much of anywhere. And at the end, I didn't feel like they cohered into anything much at all.
posted by kyrademon at 5:59 PM on December 26, 2022

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