Review | Monday 16 July 2012
Dave Eggers’s first book was the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and its quirky, self-conscious style tends to polarise readers. I personally loved it and found it highly original, funny and, of course, heartbreaking. His more recent books, particularly Zeitoun and What is the What, are more conventional but each raise questions of injustice, continuing a theme that ran through the memoir. Eggers is also the founder of the publishing house McSweeneys, which, among other things, publishes the original and much-loved quarterly literary journal of the same name.
Eggers often likes to blur the lines between genres, yet A Hologram for the King is pure fiction. The main character, Alan, is a failing businessman who finds himself in Saudi Arabia trying to sell American communications hardware to the nation’s ruler. Alan is deep in debt and if the sale doesn’t go through, he will no longer be able to pay for his daughter’s college tuition. This book is, among other things, a reflection on the effects of globalisation and the global financial crisis. Eggers told the New Yorker that he ‘wanted to explore how an essentially good man like Alan participated in the process of manufacturing moving offshore in the eighties and nineties, slowly making the factories, workers, supply chain, and eventually, himself, unnecessary’.
Although A Hologram for the King is more conventional then some of his previous works, there is still a sense of absurdism. The book opens with a Samuel Beckett quote and Alan and his team find themselves in an increasingly bizarre situation, waiting day after day for the King’s arrival in an unfinished city in the middle of the desert. There is a lot more to this book than meets the eye and I will be highly recommending it.
Kara Nicholson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.