Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

There is nothing in this book which I can relate my life to. I am not a young American girl, living in New York, with a gangster father and otherwise difficult living conditions, nor have I ever been anywhere close to that. I am not living through WWII and I have never had ambitions to be a deep sea diver. So I’m afraid there are no amusing (or not amusing, depending on how you look at it) anecdotes to link this book and my life.

But, I totally loved this book. If I were to listen to it on Audible (other audio book apps available) I would expect the narrator to speak with a smoke ridden, New York drawl, probably whilst he (because it’s definitely a ‘he’, even though it was written by a women, about a girl!?) sat low in a seat, in a dark booth at the back of a dive bar, with his hat pulled over his eyes, smoking. Obviously.

The book is a slow burner. Maybe that’s because it took Egan nearly 15 years to write it and so the passage of time is beautifully paced. I didn’t realise I was enjoying it until I couldn’t stop thinking about it – it delivers little snippets at decent intervals, so as to always keep you guessing. The characters are all strong and gutsy and maybe that’s something to do with the era and the location – the main character is Anna, and I feel like it’s unusual to see the war through a women’s eyes, from this angle that is.

The hint of the shady underworld gives it some glamour, without glamorising it too much. It’s evocative and atmospheric, without being too enigmatic – even though it doesn’t spell everything out for you, it’s not vague so as to leave you feeling lost and confused.

It’s different to anything I’ve ever read, not so much in the story telling, which is of course accomplished and confident seeing as it’s written by someone who has already got several awards under her belt, but the viewpoint it gives of the war and the effect it had on Americans, those who weren’t necessarily directly involved in the actual cause, but who felt the effects anyway.

It’s got depth, personality, and flavour. Loved it.

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