The Gone-Away World
Posted by: Neil Hollands
For an adventurous book group looking for an author with an unusual and dazzling style I highly recommend the English author Nick Harkaway and his first novel, The Gone-Away World.
Harkaway is the son of the famous espionage novelist John Le Carré, but his style and subject matter is very different. In describing it, I would begin with Dickens, with whom he shares a worldview of social ills caused by greed and bureaucracy (along with clever character names). Next add a very English sense of humor, along the lines of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, along with their ability to build a decent story while stringing together one joke after another. Harkaway shares the skill of writers like Neal Stephenson to digress along the way, but in a way that is so entertaining that the reader doesn’t mind the side trip. His quirky cast of characters in an arbitrary and violent world also reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. One of the lead characters is named Gonzo, and that’s fitting. Harkaway is about as gonzo as a writer can get.
Now, take all of that stylistic firepower and put it in an apocalyptic story that features mercenaries, pirates, ninjas, and–wait for it–mimes. Send the whole crew on a picaresque adventure. Throw in a plot twist that you won’t see coming, a twist that turns the book on its head about two-thirds of the way through. Finally, watch Harkaway bring this mad concoction to a suprisingly sensible conclusion when you thought it wasn’t possible, like a clown taking a few stray balloons and with a few twists showing you that a familiar animal was just waiting to appear.
Harkaway’s second book, Angelmaker –which concerns a clockmaker, an elderly superspy, gangsters, romance, and artificial bees–has received even better reviews, and is definitely on this reader’s list soon.