Tag Archives: Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gone-Away World [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nick Harkaway.

Harkaway The Gone-Away World

Although I came to this novel on the basis of my appreciation of a later work by the same author, it made an eerily good match for the most recent feature film I enjoyed. If you liked the martial arts action, twisted humor, melodramatic pathos, and reality-warping mindfuckery of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, you might find that Nick Harkaway’s doorstop 2008 first novel actually delivers a kindred experience.

The Gone-Away World contains about half a dozen major anagnorises or revelatory plot pivots, each with perfectly adequate narrative preparation and often outright foreshadowing. After getting caught with my pants down by a couple of these, I got really vigilant, paying special attention to what the story hadn’t told me at that point, and my effort was rewarded with being able to anticipate the next big surprise by maybe two or three pages. Then as I kept on reading, feeling pleased with myself, I got surprised again! (Well, I sort of saw that coming.) And again! (OMG, how could I fail to have seen that coming!) It was like losing a sparring bout.

The semi-fantastic post-apocalyptic setting is definitely sui generis (although comparisons others have made to Vonnegut have some merit), and it took me a few of the book’s longish chapters to get comfortable with the narrative framing. But even before that point I found the prose fast-moving and congenial.

There’s possibly an allegory here, certainly a parable. I had to wonder if Harkaway named “FOX”–“the gunk … inFOrmationally eXtra-saturated” (259) that stabilizes reality after the Go Away War has totally disrupted it– as a conscious poke at US propaganda media. The book takes aim at even bigger troubles, though, if you want to read it that way. The repeated tacit references to Andromeda in the final arc were poignant.

On the whole, I liked this novel a lot and found it to be a lively ride. It fell a little short of the tremendously high esteem I have for Harkaway’s Gnomon, but that’s hardly grounds to dismiss it. It is perhaps, as I’ve seen some suggest, more accessible than the later book, while still delivering a considerable taste of what the writer has to offer.

Gnomon

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Gnomon [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nick Harkaway.

Harkaway Gnomon

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon is a 666-page magical operation thinly disguised as a science-fiction police procedural. Its settings range from late antiquity to the far transhuman future, with a cluster in London, Greece, and Ethiopia in the 20th and 21st centuries. I found it compulsive reading, and worked through the whole thing in about four days. This was the first Harkaway title I’ve read, initially sighted in a public library display and long considered as something worth my attention. In an appended author’s note, the book is characterized as containing “layers of puzzles and references the author has largely forgotten as he moves on to the next and the next,” but the web of the story is so tight that it’s easy to imagine it being written in any direction: trajectories of plot and character intersect and reinforce each other everywhere, especially since “nothing means just one thing.”

The peak of textual recursion in Gnomon is perhaps Inspector Neith’s interview with Chase Pakhet, an interdisciplinary scholar who discusses the Frankfurt School and French postmodern theory after confessing a love of pulp fiction “for its cheap trashiness, its wicked women and its unrepentantly vivid sex … the violence, the moral turpitude, and the absoluteness of right and wrong in a universe that pretends to be shaded with grey” (286). But fractal self-similarity is a key ingredient throughout this book that exhibits the fabric of all being woven on Its invisible design.

Full-on metaphysics and plot spoiler: . . . . (hover over for spoiler) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

As I read this book, I was reminded of many other works I have enjoyed, including Philip Dick’s Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell, China Mieville’s The City & the City, Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, Grant Morrison’s The Filth, and the Wachowskis’ Sens8. None of these comparisons should be taken to impugn the originality or independence of Harkaway’s work here.

“I raised the sleeper, and sealed the sleeper in luminous water with five seals, that death might not prevail from that moment on.” (Apocryphon of John, logion 16)