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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway Camilla Send a noteboard - 29/08/2009 09:24:51 PM
Image of The Gone-Away WorldThere are some books, a very few books, that completely take you over. After a book like that you have no desire to read anything else; you want to reread it for the rest of your life. Given time, friends and family will make you see that this is not the best option (say, that maybe you should focus on your work, or that there might be other good books out there only waiting to be discovered). In the meantime, you will lend it to random people in the street (after having bought an extra copy specifically for lending, as dirty strangers cannot be allowed to touch your glorious copy), buy it for your friends and glare at those who do not take your advice. These books show up very rarely, and they are hardly ever announced.

I had never heard of The Gone-Away World until Ben lent it to me. I wasn't expecting it to be very good, but after having read snatches of Master Wu's attempt at explaining why America beat China to the space program, he managed to convince me that at least the language was good. I consented to putting it on my list. Remind me to buy Ben a very nice Christmas present.

I confess I was worried at first. The opening chapter, while well written, did not particularly appeal to my preferences for what a book should be about. They talked about trucks and guns. There were moments of glory in between, but I was very worried about what this would turn into. And then I read on. It quickly became apparent that the author had a good grasp of not only ninjas and pirates and martial arts, but also characters and plot. And language.

Now, mind you don't misunderstand. When I speak of ninjas and pirates, suggest old men with qi and a generally well-written book, I am not talking about something written by a pretentious geek with a good grasp of internet subcultures and a penchant for ornamental language. Good language in this instance is not the flowery verbal tapestry that I will admit sometimes enraptures certain students of literature (and I am by no means excluding myself). That kind of language would have been entirely out of place. When I say good language, I mean that the words generally are just where they ought to be. Think Adams and Pratchett and Wodehouse, but without thinking Adams and Pratchett and Wodehouse at all. Nick Harkaway has that control over language, but he uses it very differently. It appears as purposefully careless, littered with moments of brilliant insight.

What is it about? I don't really want to tell you. I suspect that is because I started out knowing nothing and fell so head over heels; the entire reading process can probably be imagined as one very slow topple, ending with a very sizeable crash (face hitting floor) in the end (did you follow that metaphor?). It tells the story of Gonzo's friend and Gonzo, set in a post-apocalyptic world (with rather long periods of pre-apocalypse and the apocalypse itself). It provides a commentary on modern warfare, multinational companies, international politics and people as cogs in a larger machinery, or not. All this is fed a steady stream of ninjas, pirates, mimes, revolutionaries, contra-revolutionaries, bastards, bigger bastards, bees, a new and rather unexpected use of Tupperware, and details that pretend to mean nothing, but that lie all the while before hitting you over the head.

I did not get hooked until the second chapter. It starts in medias res, and Harkaway's characters (oh, the characters!) grow and develop throughout -- it therefore stands to reason that they cannot be at their best in the very first chapter. I found it disorienting, as it placed me very unprepared in an unknown world with groups whose motivations and backgrounds were a big mystery. It made me think it was just another book about tough men in a post-apocalyptic tough world. But I have never been very good at reading first chapters. And it is a chapter which makes sense later on. I have also talked to some who found it captured their imagination. In other words: if you find the book sucks you in at once, read on; if it doesn't, read on.

One word on the characters before I go on. I said they develop. They also stand out. Harkaway has a knack that you find in Dumas and Conan Doyle. He gives you people in his supporting cast. Anyone who does not love Master Wu and his soft style gong fu has no heart. Anyone who has ever trained any martial art (certainly soft style --I'll wager my first-born) will feel an extreme need to pick it up again.

The novel has a steady, insistent protest against homogenising; it celebrates the unassimilated, what sticks out, is different, impedes the smooth running of the machinery, what creates something new by breaking down the old. Walter Benjamin would call him an allegorist. I am not sure that is not as good a name (and praise) as any. I could go on. But this is not the place for analysis. It is a well-written book with excellent characters and marvellous moments. It scared me on several levels, but I also laughed out loud rather a lot. And I kept reading snatches to the people around me who had no idea what I was on about.

In concusion: Camilla says, Run! Buy! Read! Now!

structured procrastinator
And if you want more convincing, there is information here...
This message last edited by Rebekah on 02/09/2009 at 05:58:11 PM
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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 29/08/2009 09:24:51 PM 3728 Views
I will read it. - 30/08/2009 10:42:34 AM 753 Views
Re: I will read it. - 30/08/2009 02:53:25 PM 798 Views
Re: I will read it. - 30/08/2009 02:58:28 PM 853 Views
I'll have to look for it at the library. *NM* - 30/08/2009 03:20:16 PM 385 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 31/08/2009 02:47:09 AM 886 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 31/08/2009 09:53:05 AM 801 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 31/08/2009 12:35:09 PM 852 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 31/08/2009 12:44:53 PM 837 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 31/08/2009 01:57:27 PM 833 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 31/08/2009 01:58:32 PM 803 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 01/09/2009 07:05:39 AM 802 Views
Re: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - 21/11/2009 11:15:20 AM 729 Views
It was a Very Good Book. - 01/09/2009 03:57:31 PM 811 Views
Yes - 05/09/2009 04:37:55 PM 696 Views
sounds interesting - 20/10/2009 09:29:55 PM 726 Views
It is! - 20/10/2009 09:32:31 PM 719 Views
I just got it. - 20/10/2009 11:37:20 PM 707 Views
Excellent - 20/10/2009 11:38:57 PM 783 Views
Well, then, I expect nothing but excellence - 21/10/2009 04:34:24 PM 791 Views
Let me know what you think of it - 21/10/2009 04:35:57 PM 699 Views
Absolutely - 21/10/2009 04:53:12 PM 923 Views
Seems it's a good thing that your review keeps popping up inexplicably. - 20/10/2009 11:41:09 PM 829 Views
Is that what it does? - 21/10/2009 10:04:10 AM 766 Views
Having read it now... - 29/10/2009 09:49:38 AM 773 Views
I am glad you liked it. - 21/11/2009 11:14:51 AM 692 Views
So it took me a while to even notice this book existed.... - 20/03/2012 09:31:14 PM 748 Views
Welcome to the club *NM* - 20/03/2012 09:33:22 PM 310 Views
Also - 20/03/2012 09:35:59 PM 758 Views
It's been bought! - 20/03/2012 09:46:09 PM 663 Views

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