This reminded me of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: each chapter focuses on a different character remote from the rest, and stands alone almost like a short story - and yet there are links between the stories. In this case, the links lacked the linear simplicity of Cloud Atlas or Homegoing however; I sometimes found them difficult to follow (not unlike life then). At one point, I decided just to keep reading, instead of tracing connections back and forth between chapters, and hopefully all would become clear. It didn't work - the connections were loose, faintly detailed; they didn't all come together at the end. Despite this, I wanted to know what they were. It's like hearing some piece of gossip: as an anonymous set of facts, it's of limited interest; it's different when you find out that it relates to someone you know.
It's difficult to say what this book is about. As I said, it's a series of connected stories. In each one, whatever the action level, something happens - not building towards an ultimate conclusion - but a moment in itself. For example, the first chapter concerns the kleptomania of one of the characters, and her being almost caught in the act. Chapter two is about chapter one's ex-boss: a music producer - middle-aged, divorced, trying out wacko cures for his low sex drive. Chapter three is chapter two as a teenager, but the focus is on one of his friends, who has what seems like a terribly unequal, exploitative relationship with an older man - again, a music producer. Chapter four is about the afore-mentioned music producer, older, still with a poor attitude to women, but with a young daughter about the same age as chapter three, and a young son who despises him. I guess, looking at it like this, there is a kind of give-and-take about the chapters: you see characters when they're young, and when they're old, and if they're not exactly paying for the actions of their younger selves, it's interesting to compare the two. So you could say that this book is about personal history - the way people deal with the spectre of their younger selves, the way they change.
I enjoyed the way Egan wrote, and looked forward to going back to this book every time. Although there was one character who seemed to appear more frequently than the rest, there was no single strong lead. I would usually find this off-putting, but not here for some reason. Egan also writes about things I would usually shy away from reading - exploitative relationships, loneliness - but it wasn't so awful; partly, I think, because these were things happening in the past, so you saw people passing through their bad moments, coming out the other side.
Another thing I found interesting was that Egan seems to purposefully avoid the powerful pull of nostalgia: that thing where a past life is looked back on, and the memory built up into something beautiful and fated, which reality could never actually match - like in Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. Egan treats past events in present-day terms: they are as grubby and underwhelming as those that occur later. The result is gentler and more fluid and again, prevents the focus from building up around any one character or relationship. It's a concertedly multi-focused book (but not very multi-cultural).