Paperback review: A Hologram for the King, By Dave Eggers


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The Independent Culture

Really I could review this in two words: great novel. But let me flesh that out a little. It’s the story of Alan Clay, a middle-aged, divorced, heavily-indebted businessman with a daughter he can’t afford to put through college, a liking for alcohol, and a horrible growth on the back of his neck, who goes to Saudi Arabia to make a presentation to King Abdullah in the hope of selling him hologram technology.

But the King doesn’t show up on the first day. Nor the second. Or the third. One can’t help but be reminded of Waiting for Godot – but this is a thoroughly original work, with an atmosphere all its own: melancholy, comic, and unexpectedly uplifting. Alan passes the time by befriending his cab driver, drinking heavily in his hotel room, and trying to cut his lump off. He has dalliances with two women, one more satisfactory than the other, but both oddly inconclusive. Eggers’ style is deliciously readable: I was hooked from the first page. He writes with great spareness and clarity, occasionally enlivened by a burst of unexpected imagery: Alan is “as intriguing to corporate America as an airplane built from mud”.