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Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

August 6, 2009

A true-life tale for the hipster generation, AHWoSG gives us a slightly impressive, slightly flawed depiction of death and the life that comes after it. It’s a novel that seems to revel it’s own fictionality; it slithers off the page like dollops of melted cheese, it becomes almost unbearable at the end. This is ironic because the novel is autobiographical but it the lines between fiction and non-fiction are often blurred.

The novel is pretty much a sequence of events which are often dull and repetitive, written in a frantic, stream-of-consciousness style which often last for pages. It portrays the aftermath of death, and, in fact, life in general: we don’t have major events but small, dull (or highly interesting, depending on where you’re standing) events. The novel works in these moments of life, where we are allowed a look at the thought process of Eggers. That frantic, often a mile-a-minute thinking when you’re scared or angry.

Eggers does that well, however, the length of the novel undoes the rather impressive start. It whimpers out, but perhaps that is the point; life does not have a big bang or feel-good ending. Although, it does not excuse the fact that it becomes increasingly cloying and erratic, you often want to shake Eggers and tell him to stop being so annoyingly fixated with every tiny little thing.

The downfall of this book is the far too ‘hipness’ aspect of it all. Eggers style is self-consciously ‘hip’, drawing attention to itself. The acknowledgments are the ultimate example of enjoying one’s writing too much. It’s self-consciously trite but because it recognises it, does that mean we can’t criticise it? I love novels that are self-aware of their own fiction but for some reason with this book, it didn’t work. I’m not saying that the meta-fictional elements were all terrible, apart from the beginning, as the MTV interview is possibly the bravado moment of the book.

We are presented with an almost striped-bare account of moments in Eggers childhood; the text becomes more concise and we begin to see the story in a new light. It’s a delightful device, Eggers uses the novel’s own autobiographical element to offer us a warts-and-all take on his own life. It is like a novella in it’s own right. It appears more truthful than the rest of the book because it has little of the irony and hipness of the rest. I feel like I actually get to see the ‘real’ Eggers, even though it’s manufactured it transcends it’s own fiction and that’s why it’s the best part of the entire novel.

In the end, AHWoSG is flawed but a startling and impressive debut all at the same time. It has times of marvellously poetic moments, and times of unbearably dull and pointless moments that unfortunately come far too often. In the end, it’s worth a read for some brilliant moments but ultimately it outstays its welcome.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2009 2:38 am

    I can never decide if I think this book looks interesting to me or not. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I loved What Is The What though!

    Lezlie

    • August 6, 2009 9:54 am

      You should give it a go, it’s flawed but worth a read. You might actually love it so you know, who knows. I wonder what his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are will be like, a book based on his script is coming out soon so might have to get that.

  2. August 6, 2009 1:04 pm

    LOVED Where The Wild Things Are as a kid! Thanks for the heads-up on that!

    Lezlie

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