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The Invisible Circus: A Novel Paperback – January 15, 1996

3.7 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Paperback, January 15, 1996
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First-novelist Egan examines the bittersweet legacy of the 1960s through the story of a teenage girl who travels to Europe to retrace the steps of her dead sister.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The 1960s seem to have had a pervasive influence on the lives of those who were young then. Phoebe O'Connor saw those years in terms of her older sister Faith's life and death. In 1978, 18-year-old Phoebe decides to relive the final months of Faith's life and perhaps discover the truth about her death. She leaves San Francisco for Europe, determined to retrace Faith's journey using the precious postcards from Faith that she has saved for ten years. She visits London, Amsterdam, France, and Germany, where she meets Faith's lover, Wolf. Wolf decides to accompany her to Italy, and they have a passionate, feverish affair as they travel to the place of Faith's death. Phoebe learns the truth about Faith, the sister she has idealized, and about herself and her family. These self-realizations are often painful to read because they are so real. Egan's first novel is great reading. Recommended for most fiction collections.
Barbara Maslekoff, Ohioana Lib., Columbus
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (January 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312140908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312140908
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,584,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago, where her paternal grandfather was a police commander and bodyguard for President Truman during his visits to that city. She was raised in San Francisco and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and St. John's College, Cambridge, in England. In those student years she did a lot of traveling, often with a backpack: China, the former USSR, Japan, much of Europe, and those travels became the basis for her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and her story collection, Emerald City. She came to New York in 1987 and worked an array of wacky jobs while learning to write: catering at the World Trade Center; joining the word processing pool at a midtown law firm; serving as the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones, an OSS spy-turned-Spanish countess (by marriage), who wrote a series of bestsellers about her spying experiences and famous friends.
Egan has published short stories in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta and McSweeney's. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, came out in 1995 and was released as a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Her second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2001, and her third, The Keep, was a national bestseller. Also a journalist, Egan has written many cover stories for the New York Times Magazine on topics ranging from young fashion models to the secret online lives of closeted gay teens. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.

Photo credit Pieter M. Van Hattem

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Jennifer Egan's The Invisible Circus is a triumphant first novel. The riveting plot and fascinating characters make this book a page-turner, and the thematic reflections on memory and family ties keep the reader thinking of this book long after the last page. The gripping plot is at once a mystery and love story: Phoebe goes on a quest to understand her sister Faith so that she can begin her own life, free from the bonds of the unresolved family issues that Faith's life and mysterious death created. The portrayal of the relationship between Phoebe and Faith reflects more insightfully the bond between siblings than any other description I have read. Phoebe's impulsive trip to Europe results in a beautifully written adventure, filled with engaging vignettes and believable characters. Ultimately, however, it is not only the well wrought characters or carefully constructed plot that makes you love this book. Rather what makes this book a cut above are the stimulating reflections on the nature of memory, the search for transcendence, and the impact of even fleeting relationships on shaping everyday existence. The Invisible Circus will haunt you, leaving you pondering the elusiveness of memory and the ephemeral nature of experience. Faith's search for 'real life,' and the tragic consequences of her search prompts the reader to reflect on the nature of the ordinary versus the unusual, the struggle for balance between routine and risk. Ultimately this book helps the reader achieve a moment of transcendence, the highest achievement both in fiction and life.
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Format: Paperback
I don't remember ever reading a better portrait of adolescent angst (or whatever that awful despair and loneliness that teens experience is called). Jennifer Egan truly remembers her teenage years well.

But Phoebe's is not your garden variety angst. She is marred by the deaths of her father and her older sister Faith. Her father she worshipped from a distance (as it was his choice). Phoebe also worshipped Faith, but especially after her death, to the point where she borrows the remains of her life: she sleeps in her room, she wears her clothes, she has no identity of her own.

After high school graduation Phoebe goes (escapes) on a journey across Europe, trying to figure out what happened to her sister. Along the way, she runs into her sister's old boyfriend, Wolf, and the pieces of the puzzle fall into place as if by magic.

Everything makes sense after the trip to Italy. Phoebe sheds her previous skin and embraces her new future. Wolf grieves and purges the regrets he had inside. There is a final resolution for everyone involved.

Some of the things i did not like so well about the book:

* At the very beginning, there were times where Phoebe was too adult (when in fact she was 5-6 years old). For example, she got so angry at Faith for diving from the highest board at the country club swimming pool. So young and already able to articulate her jealousy? Another example is when she witnessed her brother Barry ask their dad for help with a machine. The dad, who liberally ignored the two youngest kids, would seem distracted and in consequence disappoint Barry. Phoebe is able to express in her mind how Barry shouldn't even go there, as "she pitied her brother and wanted no part of his weakness".
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Format: Paperback
There is not a word out of place in The Invisible Circus; it's been a long time since I've read such beautifully crafted prose in a contemporary novel. But the portrayal of Phoebe is most amazing: She's an intelligent, troubled, and wholly sympathetic girl who comes right off the page. I was with her all the way, and with this wonderful novel as well.
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Format: Paperback
I loved this book and couldn't put it down! While it is successful in exploring the feeling that most of us brought up in the 70's had of eating leftovers from the 60s party; it is even better at portraying the excitement, danger, loneliness, and naivite that are part and parcel of a girl's first trip to Europe. I too was there, at the tail end of the '70's, and Egan is absolutely on target. She has created a picaresque novel with a female lead character who doesn't die, have a baby, or suffer incestuous abuse. How refreshing!
Yes, some of the relationships seem improbable, there is some adolescent wish fulfilment in the relationship between Wolf and Phoebe, but I didn't mind. I thought the relationship was fun and romantic, and Wolf's dialogue and attitude was realistic enough to me to keep me glued to the page. Okay, I fell in love with him. I loved the scene where Phoebe meets Wolf in Europe for the first time! To me the extraneous stuff was in her mother's fantasy second marriage, and her brother's career. Admittedly, this book will appeal more to women than men.
I was surprised to read above that they were making a movie out of it. It's suitable material, but I can't help but anticipate that Hollywood will make a mess out of it.
Loved it, Loved it, Loved it. So go ahead and Buy it!
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Format: Paperback
The simplicity and honesty of this story thrilled me. The people are sharply observed; the language deft and graceful; the ultimate payoff immensely poignant. Phoebe and her sister struggle in a flood of history, captured with verve by Egan, that they can only begin to understand, reaching finally, each in her own way, a kind of transcendance.
But this is much more than a coming-of-age book for girls (I'm a man, f'rinstance). "The Invisible Circus" is a section of our culture, the sixties, and today, carved deep in the earth of history.
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