The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

This is my second attempt at this book and I did so because it turned up so many times in the Best Books of 2022 lists that people write. I am not sure I really understand this book but I think it is about big data and whether it really is of benefit to us.

. . . this data collection was edging me into the role of creepy voyeur.


Brix Bouton creates Own Your Unconscious (as if you don’t already) where you can up/download it and then share with everyone. You can watch it back and you can put it into the great mix of everyone’s conscious, remembering events and seeing them through others’eyes. The book then rotates, circling backwards and forwards, through a caste of characters all related although you don’t know how at first. You need to be a patient reader to wait for this to be revealed to you: it took me to p74 to start to recognise some of the patterns and that is probably why I gave up the first time.

I think the book is a warning about data being held by others, no matter how ethical, and that in fact it can’t ever replace real life where, if anything, the pandemic reminded us that we are social, interconnected animals and that we start to suffer if we are not able to continue this.

But gradually it will come to light that, while the counters themselves have no use for the data they passively acquire, they are lending, leasing and selling it to other entities who use it in ways enormously profitable to themselves.


In each story about a person, the data is there enabling something but also its shortcomings being revealed. There is the counter, data collector/empiricist, who crowdsources whether the person he is attracted to, M, is pretty and what the chances are of gaining her attention.

And here is where the data begin to fail, because how can I calculate whose chances are best? The key to M’s heart may be something quirky and impossible to predict without intimate knowledge of her background and memories and psychological state – which, again, I could only acquire invasively.


There was the English graduate who was employed to watch film and to codify every action in the films and ‘algebraize’ it.

a (+drink) X (action of throwing drink) = a (-drink) +i/2

-making the protagonist the target of the hurled drink rather than the hurler.


The title is American and I struggled with it a bit – it’s a house made out of sweets – something that children desire much like the house in Hansel and Gretl but also like the internet where we get a dopamine rush everytime we get a like or are validated in some way. It sucks us in without us even knowing it is happening just like sugar addiction. In fact in the book when discussing Napster, although it isn’t called that, we are told that no one gets anything for free and that the house in Hansel and Gretl is deceptive and that we should ‘never trust a candy house’.

The right to privacy runs parallel to Brix’s story as the company Mondrian owned by Chris Salazar. His Grandmother owns a Modrian painting which she hangs in her small house and refuses to lock it away. She surrounds herself with Mondrian trinkets and souvenirs – an ashtray with a Mondrian painting on it and much more – saying that with all the junk in the house no one will believe that the painting is real. It brings to mind that saying that you often here on Moneybox on the radio about scams usually involving the internet – if it sounds too good to be true it is.

So each story reveals something of the dangers of giving data away and each story links to the others through the connections between relatives and friends showing us that we don’t need technology to to this for us. We are humans and can do it for ourselves, meeting our deeper needs.

It would make an excelent book club book with much to discuss if everyone persevered with reading it.

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