…by Jennifer Egan.
Charlotte Swenson is a model in New York. Until she meets with an accident and requires reconstructive facial surgery. Following this, she becomes unrecognisable within the fashion world. She initially copes with alcohol. Until it gets out of control after a failed suicide attempt. She then gets desperate for a job and manages to land herself in an internet experiment about her life that could either make or break her. Then there is her namesake. A 16 year old in Charlotte’s hometown, Charlotte Hauser. The daughter of Ellen who used to be Charlotte’s best friend in high school. This teenager is plain and unhappy and looking for love. She is someone trying to come to terms with who she is. There are other characters too. Moose, who is teenage Charlotte’s uncle and who has changed a from being a jock to a history professor with possible mental health issues. Detective Halliday to whom adult Charlotte has a taken a fancy. And he is searching for the elusive Z and thinks adult Charlotte may know something. Additionally, there is Ricky, teenage Charlotte’s brother who has had a leukaemia scare. And Irene who is helping adult Charlotte with her work. And finally, the man who refers to himself as Michael West but who possibly is a terrorist.
This is a book that does raise questions about western society and the emphasis on looks and image and identity. And the frivolousness of the same. It also explores how the media manages to exploit so many people in order to sell things. And sadly, as a society, we are gullible enough to buy what is being sold. While all this is interesting, somewhere along the line, the book still manages to lose you. There are some things I found hard to get especially with regards to Moose’s character and even Michael West. I didn’t understand the need for a terrorist (and no, it wasn’t to sensationalise as the book was pre-9/11) in the scheme of things. However, I did really enjoy both the Charlottes. Their characters were penned quite beautifully with flaws and all. Moreover, the shallow media and fashion industry which we probably know about is also well described. It is a massive book of 500 pages but there are parts that I must admit, don’t keep you completely engrossed. With a few changes, it could have been a fantastic book.
In its current version, it deserves a rating of 3.
Until next time,