A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Shane's book 27, 2011)

This is one of those books that could be considered to be a novel or as a series of interconnected short stories, in which certain characters drift from key roles into bit parts and back again. I lean slightly towards the former but I can imagine people making the case for it being a short story collection. It doesn't matter all that much. [amtap book:isbn=1780330960]

Most of the chapters are connected to Bennie, a record producer, or his assistant, Sasha, but there are some that centre on characters whose connection to the ongoing story is unclear, at least at first.

One chapter focuses on a young woman struggling with kleptomania, another is about a man hunting for his niece in Naples, while in a third a young girl goes on safari with her dad and his young girlfriend.

The chapters do not tell the story in chronological order but hop backwards and forwards in time, with the whole slowly coming into focus. Egan experiments with form, too, presenting one story as a slideshow, another as a magazine interview.

It’s not always successful - the interview goes on too long, for example, and the final chapter is set in a dystopian future that is somewhat clumsily realised. However, most of the chapters hit their targets perfectly. The slideshow chapter, for example, about a young girl trying to make sense of her family, is genuinely - and unexpectedly - moving.

This is unusual because it's the first book I've read that is an app. I've read plenty of ebooks by now so I'm used to the idea of a whole section of my library being virtual. A book that is a stand-alone app is a little different. It means, for one thing, the addition of features that aren't possible in another format, such as the ability to switch between the audiobook and the text version with one tap and added 'liner notes' that provide background notes and video clips related to each chapter.

The slideshow chapter, incidentally, works better in app form than on paper.

In whatever format, this is a very good book. Egan balances humour and pathos and has a sharp eye for pop cultural references too. There's a lot to enjoy here.