Jennifer Egan – Manhattan Beach


Book 11 out of 16 from the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist

After the fantastic A Visit from the Goon Squad (yes for shame I have not read Egan’s earlier novels) I was looking forward to the new Egan novel mostly because I was wondering what she would do next. I mean ….Goon Squad had a fractured timeline, a plot that mentions music and a section consisting of a power point!

So after an eye opening experimental novel, Egan’s follow up Manhattan Beach is even more eye opening for one reason:

It is a novel with a conventional structure.

Yes. Manhattan Beach has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s got 30 chapters, and each piece fits in beautifully.

At first it did come as a shock but that left after the first five pages because it is an amazing novel.

Twelve year old Anna accompanies her father to visit the mysterious Dexter Styles. An event which has repercussions on her family. Later as the novel progresses Anna’s father disappears and Anna, now an adult AND a diver , runs into Dexter Styles again and the events of her past come to the forefront. I will say right now that this summary is purposefully scanty due to the fact that there is more detail which really should be approached by reading the novel.

Although I did say that this novel was conventional in structure, Egan still does not play the game and Manhattan Beach is full of plot twists and red herrings. This makes exciting reading due to the unpredictability. At first Egan creates a narrative with loose ends but all questions are answered and tied up nicely.

There is nothing wrong with this book: the characters are well developed, the language is gorgeous, a pure joy to read and I liked the way the novel progressed. As the book takes place during the great depression and the second world war, Egan mentions events which happened at the time and these are meticulously researched.

However, although Manhattan Beach seems to be a murder mystery, it is a book about women’s rights and the strength to persevere despite all obstacles. As Anna struggles to become a deep sea diver, she is verbally humiliated by her male instructor and is the subject of jokes from some of her peers. After all the exams though Anna survives and proves to be the best diver in her squad. There is another episode where Anna has to make some decisions and Egan once displays the difficulties of society’s view of women. If one looks at how things are today, some things have improved but sneering attitudes towards women in supposed ‘masculine’ roles still happens.

While reading Manhattan Beach, I had the exact same feeling of euphoria when I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and there are similar. Both have written a satisfying novel that has ‘classic’ stamped all over them.  Now the question on my lips is:

What will Jennifer Egan write next? who knows?


Many thanks to Little Brown/Corsair for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Other Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2018 reviews:

Nicola Barker – H(A)PPY

Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Sarah Schmidt – See What I have Done

Kamila Shamsie – Home Fire

Rachel Seiffert – A Boy in Winter

Meena Kandasamy – When I Hit You

Jessie Greengrass – Sight

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Jesmyn Ward – Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Fiona Mozley – Elmet