Way back in 2008, Nick Harkaway published his first novel, The Gone-Away World. This coming January his newest novel, Gnomon, will be available in the U.S., although it’ll be available in Great Britain in November and I’m seriously considering ordering it from there, since I don’t think I can wait until January. Until then, though, I’m thinking I might reread all three of his previous novels, all of which I loved. But my favorite remains The Gone-Away World.
There are some books that are relatively easy for me to review: I offer a sentence or two of the plot, describe, in more detail, a character or two, talk about what it was about the book that kept me reading, maybe compare it to another book, and voila! there you have it. With The Gone-Away World, I can’t do any of those things because I want each reader to discover the joys of this outstanding first novel for themselves, without prejudice, as it were. I don’t want to reveal any plot details because they’re so cleverly laid out; except to say that you’ll probably find the book in the science fiction section of the library; I don’t want to mention the characters in anything but the most general way, so I’ll just say that they’re mostly sympathetic and always three-dimensional. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world – it’s okay to tell you that. And I can tell you that there’s a spectacular plot twist that totally changes the way you read the book. (As a result, I suspect that you’ll want to go back to the beginning and reread it, just as I did, looking for the clues that Harkaway helpfully planted for us but that we didn’t understand were clues at the time.) Reading The Gone-Away World, I was reminded of the narratively complex fiction by his father, John Le Carré, Neal Stephenson; a lot of military science fiction, including Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War; Sylvia Nasaw’s A Beautiful Mind (or perhaps the movie made from it); Robert Heinlein; Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronices. (I’m sure there were other influences I simply didn’t catch.) Now, I’ve never met Nick Harkaway (though we are friends on Facebook)), so I don’t know if in fact he’s read (or enjoyed) any of these, but as I was reading The Gone-Away World, echoes of all of them came to mind. What I can say is that if you’re looking for an inventive, intelligent, rousing, and simply all-around terrific novel, read Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World.