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Friday, August 29, 2008

"The Gone-Away World" by Nick Harkaway (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “The Gone-Away WorldHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Reviews via Book Geeks + The Guardian
Read The Guardian’s INTERVIEW with Nick Harkaway

INTRODUCTION: Nick Harkaway is the son of the famous author, John le Carré, and naturally “The Gone-Away World” acquired a bit of notoriety before it was even published. At first, I hesitated between ordering the UK edition or waiting for the US one to check out in a bookstore/library and see if I wanted to buy the book. But the online reviews strongly suggested this would be a novel you either loved or hated and when the excerpts agreed with me, I went ahead and ordered the UK hardcover edition. A wise decision as I ended up loving the book.

SETTING: The book spans several decades that start in a near-future with a slightly alternate history, and then The Gone-Away War occurs which changes Earth dramatically so the larger portion of the book takes place in a strange post-apocalyptic world where the only safe assumption is not to make any. After a slightly confusing start in the post-Away Earth that sets up the main plot of the novel and is very useful to revisit once you get to page 300 or so, the book goes back to the childhood of our nameless narrator and his friend, foster-brother and all around hero, Gonzo Lubitsch, and follows the two growing up in a small British country village, going to college, becoming part of the super-secret “Away” project, and going to war including the use of the “Gone-Away Bomb”.

FORMAT/INFO:The Gone-Away World” stands at 531 pages divided over fifteen chapters and an Epilogue. Each chapter is preceded by a short description of its content which is usually funny and both true & misleading. The narration is a very energetic present tense first-person POV via our nameless main character. “The Gone-Away World” is self-contained and very well-plotted, though you can only fully appreciate that if you reread the novel. The epilogue meanwhile, is fitting, sweet and wistful. June 5, 2008 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “The Gone-Away World” via William Heinemann Ltd. The North American version (See Inset) will be published by
Knopf on September 2, 2008. US cover designed by Jason Booher.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:The Gone-Away World” is a book that needs at least one reread to fully enjoy and appreciate. The good news is that its flamboyant writing style and the larger-than-life, weird or just plain grotesque characters only grow on you, so reading the book is even more fun once you know what happens. Our nameless narrator is a very strange person from the beginning, though the extent of weirdness relating to him—while artfully hinted throughout the book—will still shock you when revealed. Even when you think you know everything, there are revelations waiting to be discovered, although the wistful and sweet epilogue is devoid of major surprises…

The Gone-Away World” immediately plunges the reader into the weird post apocalyptic setting that provides the title on the first page as we are treated to a first glimpse of our main heroes lounging in a bar between assignments. The normality of the bar setting is disrupted by some of the characters around, and then the action starts when lights go off and a raging fire engorging a distant section of the Jorgmund pipe is seen. That is Trouble with a capital T since the Jorgmund pipe is the one supposedly indestructible construct that preserves normality on the parts of the Earth enclosed by it. Go beyond it a little and it's still more or less normal since ex-soldiers like our heroes protect the approaches from unreal creatures made by the stuff of wishes, desires, fears and nightmares of the human mind. Go farther and anything can happen, though mostly unpleasantness. Or so we are led to believe. Welcome to the post-Gone Away Earth where human thoughts can take physical reality and most of the time the result is not pretty. At least animals are more “honest”. For instance, a bull may think of itself as a super strong with huge horns and the ability to fly, but it is still a bull. With humans though, it's more complicated and usually nastier as we get to see quite a few times in the book, so the Jorgmund pipe is crucial and the “Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmoor County (corporate HQ the Nameless Bar, CEO Sally J. Culpepper, presiding)” formed by our heroes who are mostly ex-soldiers and ex-special forces operatives banding together after the Away War, is the best at emergency response in the Livable Zone. If the above name, quoted directly from the book, brackets and all, seems a bit wordy, well that is the style of the novel, but I enjoyed it a lot and my enjoyment only grew with familiarity.

After several more pages involving corporate “pencilneck” Dick Washburn, affectionately named Dickwash by Gonzo Lubitsch; a very funny lesson in corporate hierarchy; a more sober and satirical lesson in corporate cost cutting; a first look at the tools of the trade; and the FOX canisters—the substance that allows the Jorgmund pipe to exist…the counter to the “unreality Stuff” if you want—among other things, we go back to the beginning and the Lubitsch household where our narrator and Gonzo were five-year-olds, the world was normal, or at least seemed so, and our saga begins.

A deeply missed older brother dead on some far away battlefield; a mysterious karate master; a weird school principal and her sweet daughter; and a somewhat unpleasant important guy and his imperious daughter are some of the highlights of the “growing up in the country” chapter of the novel and then we are off to college, sex, subversion and student demonstrations. After a very brief detour through the real world, the undercover super secret world of highly classified weapons research beckons for our narrator and for Gonzo. And so it starts. And it gets only better after page 300 when the action ramps up, up, up and the novel becomes impossible to put down. Tearing through the last 200+ pages to find out what happens, I was left breathless at the superb ending, but saddened that such a beautiful book was finished, and I had to go back and reread “The Gone-Away World” immediately. Of course after all that, Nick Harkaway’s debut still left me wanting more…

The Gone-Away World” will be one of my Top Five favorite books of the year in both genre and mainstream fiction, and is highly, highly recommended.


Peta said...

This one sounds like it's a must for the "To Buy" list - great review. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yè this book does sound wonderful! :-) I had a chance to get it free from the publishers a while ago but chose Pratchett's Discworld Graphic Novel instead; that said, I'll go out an get GAW. :-)

-.- said...

This makes me want to pick up the book even more. I can't wait for the change to read it.

~ Popin

Jeanne said...

I'm a fan of this book--found your review through the link at Mperience--and I learned something new here! I didn't know he was the son of LeCarre. He's a better writer, I think.


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