Wednesday 29 July 2020

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Last Updated: 20 October 2021

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan Book Cover

AD* | Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.

Manhattan Beach was one of the books I wanted to read in 2020, so I'm pleased that I've managed to read and review it this year! 

This is an epic historical tale, sweeping across multiple years, locations, and generations of the Kerrigan family. It paints a raw and honest account of how life would have been for many Americans at the time, providing an unflinching view of the hardships people faced. 

The timeline does jump around a bit in order to incorporate all the events that are important to the plot, but this is largely done in a sensible way and luckily avoids confusion. That being said, there is a lot to keep track of and this is a fairly lengthy book so a certain degree of concentration will be required if you are not a fast reader!

I am not overly familiar with the history of the USA during this time, so while I cannot speak for the historical accuracy of the novel, it is still fascinating to read about this period. From the language and terminology used by the characters to the way they dress, live, and think, much can be learned from Manhattan Beach. It's clear that the author must have done a significant amount of research across a wide variety of topics in order to plan this book, and that research has definitely paid off in the final, published story.

Anna Kerrigan is the main character - a young girl who grows up throughout the course of the book. Starting out as a child who adores her father above all else, Anna progresses into her own person; a doting sister, a dedicated employee, an intelligent and sharp-minded individual, and an attractive young woman living in a man's world. As a reader, you share in Anna's hopes and dreams, her goals, ambitions, heartache, love and loss. As the innocent young girl is left behind, a special young woman emerges. Anna is truly a delight to read about.

Manhattan Beach is an excellent story and a world that I thoroughly enjoyed diving into each time I opened the book. 

Rating: 4 stars

Manhattan Beach is available to buy now.

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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