Look at Me, By Jennifer Egan
Face it – this is the end of civilisation
Sunday 09 October 2011
Charlotte Swenson is a model – not quite a supermodel, but not far off.
On page one of this novel, she goes through the windscreen of her car and smashes every bone in her face. After total reconstructive surgery, with 80 titanium screws holding her new face on, she looks more or less normal. But she no longer looks anything like her old self. Her modelling career seems finished; but she has the chance of a new career as one of the faces on a new reality website. It's impossible to sum up this sharp, clever, complex, satirical novel in a few plotlines; but other significant characters include another Charlotte, teenage daughter of Swenson's old schoolfriend, alienated, disaffected and ready for an affair with her new maths teacher; and Moose, the younger Charlotte's uncle, an academic who nearly blew up all his students, and who believes that Western civilisation began when the invention of glass let in the light, and is in decline now that we see nothing but surfaces.
First published in 2001, Look at Me now appears alarmingly prescient. Since it was written, our obsession with appearance has grown, not diminished, and so has our fascination with reality shows – not to mention the dark undercurrent of terrorism within Western society, which Egan identified well before 9/11 occurred. I can't do this 514-page novel justice in 242 words. It's funny and serious, dry, sly and wry. The writing is as pin-sharp as the perceptions. Read it.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling