I bought this just after finishing 'A visit from the goon squad' and I was just as impressed. Basically three individual stories are tangentially connected, nevertheless each one gripped me in different ways. Older Charlotte is an ex-model who has reconstructive facial surgery after an accident and becomes desperate when none of her old acquaintances recognise her - desperate enough to sign up to a truly invasive Internet scheme. This was my favourite strand even though Charlotte herself isn't very likeable. Younger Charlotte is restless in her teenage life and has an affair with an older man to try and quell her restlessness - I thought that this Charlotte was drawn really well and was an entirely believable, if unusual, teenager. Finally there's the middle eastern terrorist who plans to bring down America from the inside, but ends up being sucked further and further in. This book was written in 2001, before 9/11 and before so much of our lives began to be lived online. As a result it feels alternately naive and prescient. The character of the terrorist is less believable now in a post 9/11 world but he is sympathetically drawn and his journey is comically bleak at the end. Similarly the 'real-life' Internet experiment that Charlotte takes part in is all too familiar now - the only detail strange to us is how much money she gets paid for sharing her life online. Not only is Jennifer Egan a brilliant writer who manages that rare combination of readable and well-crafted prose, she seems to have predicted the future. 10 years on, this still feels like a book that is of our time and well worth a read today.
Look at Me : A Novel
About This Item
In this ambitiously multilayered novel from the acclaimed and award-winning writer Jennifer Egan, a fashion model named Charlotte Swenson emerges from a car accident in her Illinois hometown with her face so badly shattered that it takes eighty titanium screws to reassemble it. She returns to New York still beautiful but oddly unrecognizable, a virtual stranger in the world she once effortlessly occupied.
With the surreal authority of a David Lynch, Jennifer Egan threads Charlotte’s narrative with those of other casualties of our infatuation with the image. There’s a deceptively plain teenaged girl embarking on a dangerous secret life, an alcoholic private eye, and an enigmatic stranger who changes names and accents as he prepares an apocalyptic blow against American society. As these narratives inexorably converge, Look at Me becomes a coolly mesmerizing intellectual thriller of identity and imposture.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
|Number of Pages|
|Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)|
8.00 x 5.20 x 1.10 Inches
I bought this just aft...
It's interesting...there are so many themes being played out in this book - and my opinions mirror those of the characters on almost all of them - and yet? I was not as engrossed in this book as I thought I would be. Urban sprawl/blight, the superficiality of our society, the happy/fat/stupidity/contentedness of Americans, our desire to believe that "reality" media is actaully reality...Egan tackles all of these subjects and more...including an eerily prescient portrait of a terrorist in New York (this was written just prior to 9/11). Given my four star rating - I certainly cannot say that I disliked the book - I just wanted to be drawn in a bit more. Although - in thinking of the nature of most of the main characters - that is the last thing they would have wanted. The only things that seem to matter are surface things. Like the book's title - "Look at Me"...suggesting that if the characters had their way - we would only judge this book by the cover.
I have mixed feelings ...
I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved how the author took several characters stories and slowly wove them together like a French braid. I enjoyed the different facets of the theme of how humans see the world, and see women. But I had a difficult time with many of the characters. The book is written in both first person and third. Charlotte Swenson takes first person. She's an aging model- well, aging by the standards of the fashion world. She's thirty five, but claims to be 28. She's spent her whole life wanting to have people look at her. Now she's had a terrible auto accident that crushed her face. She has 80 titanium screws holding her facial bones together now, and it's funny- no one recognizes her, even people she's known for years. She thinks it's because her face has been rearranged, but as she tries to get modeling work she finds that it's worse than that- she's gotten too old to be a model, especially since she never really hit the big time. She is now invisible to the fashion and media world, as older women frequently are. But it was pretty hard for me to care much, because Charlotte is fairly obnoxious and self absorbed. The stories of the other characters are all told in third person. Teen aged Charlotte, the daughter of older Charlotte's best childhood friend, is trying to get seen clearly by people rather than being seen through the lens of a lying boy. A college professor is trying to get a student, any student, to see the world clearly. A terrorist assimilates himself so well in a dozen different places, blending in perfectly as if he's bending light around himself. A teenage boy who had cancer wants to be seen as a teenage boy, not a boy with cancer. Celebrities are seen as interchangeable in the end. It's a great theme- I loved how Egan explored so many different aspects of the theme- and it's mostly done very well, albeit a bit slow in some spots. I was a little disappointed with the ending- it was all building up to one heck of a climax and I thought that all the strands would come together there, but I was let down a bit. But not disappointed enough to not recommend this book pretty highly.
I loved the beginning ...
I loved the beginning of this book, but once she started getting into the "Ordinary People" reality TV/social networking thing, I started to find it boring.Egan's style reminds me of Ann Packer to a degree, but this might be just because I read Look at Me immediately after two of Packer's books. The difference I see with Egan is in the action of the story. Her plots seem to follow a more fanciful direction. The second half of this book actually kind of reminded me of P.K. Dick (not sure if anyone else would see the similarity and I'm not sure I can explain it adequately, or if there's really much overlap between Egan and P.K. Dick readers, but that's what "Ordinary People" put me in mind of).The characters in this story all go through or have gone through a "before and after" kind of experience, several of them more than one. Egan seems to be questioning the very nature of personal identity. What does it mean to each of us to be "me"? Am I identified by how I look, by what I do or have done, by what I own? If one or more of these things changes, am I still "me"?I found the public persona/private persona question she raises fascinating. If we reveal all of ourselves in a reality TV/blogging/social networking realm (note that this book was published in 2001, before most of that, except reality TV. I agree with other reviewers and am impressed with Egan's prescience), when do we stop being "me"? On the flip side, if we keep everything about ourselves a secret and jump to another identity as soon as we begin to make a connection with others, do we have any more control of our identities? In the case of both extremes, we can lose ourselves, in one case belonging to everyone else and in the other belonging to no one because we are invisible. It's caused me to wonder if I might want to change the nature of the information I share on my blog and social media. When I share personal feelings and details about my life, am I sharing myself? And if so, am I losing myself in the process?The other question this book left me with: Do people really have that much sex?
Two Charlottes, an eld...
Two Charlottes, an elder and a younger, trying to find their way in a world that worships beauty. Just one problem...they're not beautiful. The elder - a supermodel who has been in a car accident. The younger - a shy, intuitive young girl who was born nothing like a supermodel. An insightful perception of American culture. The final images are as haunting as they are prophetic.
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