The Ghost of Arabia – notes on A Hologram for a King

Estragon, or in A Hologram for the King Alan, has travelled to Saudi Arabia. Nearly bankrupt, he needs the fee from Reliant’s sale of IT services to the developing city to carry on with his life. Having put his house up for sale to finance his daughter going through college unless the deal can be sealed, he becomes a middle class every man. Chasing his own dreams and fulfilling those of others, he is torn in between varying influences.

The presentation centres on a hologram, a illusion, which becomes the very real hope of the company. An outward representation of the vacuousness of the enterprise, the focus of the presentation is snake oil, not substance.

Alan becomes a cypher for a mindset which is dying, as William Gibson explores in his last trilogy Not entirely a Cayce Pollard, but a rather more aware Hubertus Bigend, Alan still thinks in terms of factory manufacture. Alone, middle aged and tired, he is the embodiment of the middle class is writing against, unwilling or unable to change. Yet Alan does begin to when the benign tumour is cut.

He appears to discover two things. Firstly the US as a hub is truly over, with cheap manufacturing killing its industrial base – it is not confident to whole heartedly embrace the idea of niche manufacture and cottage industries. Secondly his expertise is transient and his decision to stay in Saudi, with the dream of KAEC and unwittingly aided by is daughter, allows him to move on. Whilst selling his house, he must leave the main area for the potential buyers but is spotted, with the buyer commenting that the house is haunted. His life has become haunted by memories, dead friends and a former family. Once his daughter drops out of college, he is freed from the burden of paying for her fees and can make his move. His short lived liaison with his doctor, after the removal of the benign tumour, also frees him.

What is perhaps frustrating is that novel is largely backward looking. Instead of relishing an existing maker culture, Alan’s maker dreams are proxied through middlemen and a mild misunderstanding of maker culture. His idea is apt but the execution is expensive and too large; the reason for the bid’s failure. He misreads the world to his own detriment, as do his colleagues. His dream might yet live, but first he must understand that he must see his old life end.

It becomes his afterlife after he kills his previous one by becoming a man of action. In that sense, Estragon meets Godot, or in this case the king, Rather than moving onto a new tree, a new set of waiting, he remains. Hologram for a King tries to move from being an existential novel about the middle class and sees it being killed. Rather than celebrating an unsustainable version of a life, he celebrates change and as such tried to kill the novel it might have been. Alan, the everyman, becomes a ghost and finds a sense of place and purpose.

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