Wednesday, 22 January 2014
Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Before reading this I checked out the reviews on Goodreads and it certainly seems to be a book that divides opinions. For every person who loved it there seems to be another who vehemently loathed it. After reading it I can say I'm mostly in the loved it camp - although that's not to say I loved everything about it, but more of that later.
It's a memoir borne of tragedy, Dave Eggers' parents both died of cancer 32 days apart, leaving Dave, his sister Beth and brothers Bill and Christopher (Toph). At just 21 Eggers became the primary carer for eight year old Toph and they leave the suburb of Chicago they grew up in to start a new life in California. This book loosely follows what happens next, how Eggers adjusts to his new father figure role whilst attempting to start up the magazine, Might with his friends. I say loosely because this isn't a straightforward telling, it meanders through narrative that is often a stream of consciousness and is neither fiction or non fiction but something in between. I do wonder if it's a book that needs to be read at the right time, I found the self-centred constant awareness of the jumble of thoughts and ideas was something I could identify with but I don't know if I would have felt the same way had I read it years ago. It was almost exhausting to read at times, there are parts that are gut wrenchingly beautiful, "I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so – this has always been my dream – so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep.” then later that ego that so polarises opinion, "We are the bright new stars born of a screaming black hole, the nascent suns burst from the darkness, from the grasping void of space that folds and swallows--a darkness that would devour anyone not as strong as we. We are oddities, sideshows, talk show subjects. We capture everyone's imagination.”
By the end of the book I was able to truly appreciate what Eggers has done here, it's often a frustrating read but nonetheless penetrated my thoughts in such a way that I couldn't put it down. I empathised with him, could understand the chaos raging within him but there is an underlying brittleness that just kept me from completely loving it. I really enjoyed it and will read more Eggers, I just need a little more warmth to totally fall for a book.