MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan

Oh how I loved this fabulous novel, a great story, great characters, twists and turns, unexpected outcomes all over the place, a truly gripping read perfect for long stretches of self indulgent reading. It is both the story line and the characters together who are extraordinary, equally balanced. The characters are so human, so real, flawed, passionate, loyal, fierce, strong, intelligent, I loved them all. There is so much going on here, not just in the story line, but also the skill with which it moves back and forth in time. It is like a miracle that it can all be held together so well. I guess if you previously won a Pulitzer Prize, you do have some writing smarts!

Annie Kerrigan is just twelve when the story starts in the depressions years of the early 1930s. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her father Eddie, mother Agnes and sister Lydia who is severely disabled. Eddie does his best to provide for his family, to make Lydia's life as comfortable as possible, leading him down  dodgy pathways, until one day he just simply disappears. Annie spends a lot of time with her father, trailing around after him as he goes out about his various business activities. One day on the shores of the beach, she is with her father when he meets with Dexter Styles, a man of mystery to a twelve year old, but to us old hacks clearly a man not to be messed with, which would appear to be where her father went wrong.

The narrative fast forwards to the war years, and Annie is now late teens. She is works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, doing essential war work, her meagre earnings supporting her sister and mother. Somewhat bizarrely she becomes a diver, the first female diver, an occupation considered dangerous and risky for even men to contemplate. She is quite a girl Annie, to take on the misogyny of the navy at this particular time. Her life finally has purpose, until she meets up again with Dexter Styles, still involved in his shady dealings. Once she realises she knows him, her one mission in life is to find out what happened to her father.

Fantastic read, not particularly fast moving, but compelling, surprising, the writing perfectly poised to keep us turning the page, yet also marvelling at the pages already read. Loved it. 

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