Gnomon: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 9, 2018
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—Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
“Opening a novel by Nick Harkaway feels like stepping into a theme park for the mind—every page you turn brings new delights for the mind and the senses. Gnomon is brilliant and terrifying, full of pleasures big and small. Basically, everything I want in a book.”
—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
“The best thing he’s ever written. . . It is an astonishing piece of construction, complex and witty. . . It is a magnificent achievement. . . He’s never written a bad book, but this is the one that’ll see him mentioned in the same breath as William Gibson and David Mitchell. . . This book seriously just destroyed me with joy.”
—Warren Ellis, author of Gun Machine
“This huge sci-fi detective novel of ideas is so eccentric, so audaciously plotted and so completely labyrinthine and bizarre that I had to put it aside more than once to emit Keanu-like ‘Whoahs’ of appreciation. . . It is huge fun. And it will melt your brain. . . Whoah, indeed. I wanted to give it a round of applause.”
—Tim Martin, The Spectator (London)
“Beguiling, multilayered, sprawling novel that blends elements of Philip K. Dick-tinged sci-fi, mystery, politics, and literary fiction in a most satisfying brew. . . Fans of Pynchon and William Gibson alike will devour this smart, expertly written bit of literary subversion.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
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To be fair to the author, some of that is by intent - if a major theme of your text is information overload, then it makes some sense to overload the reader with a bunch of indecipherable--and irrelevant--information. On the other hand, there is no particular justification for larding the text up with $10 words where a $1 one would've done the trick. Nor is there any particular justification for the long, nonsensical digressions that appear to be more about the sound of the author's voice than advancing the message, or plot, or anything else. In other words, much of reading this book is like dealing with a particularly irritating dream - everything is laden with portentous symbols, you run into random people who say important-seeming things, but none of it makes a lick of sense or SAYS anything. I breathed a sigh of relief at the mention of Baudrillard because it was the first indication that any of this was intentional...and when French post-structuralism comes to you as an oasis of meaning in a desert of absurdity, something has probably gone wrong.
Why, then, 3 stars? Why not 1 or 2? Because, frustratingly, the back half of the book rescues things quite a bit. Things start fitting together (and the incomprehensible structure of the first part even starts making sense), revelations are made that are genuinely astonishing, and certain seeds planted in the first half of the book bear unexpected--and delightful--fruit. (It's possible that other seeds also bore fruit, and I simply forgot them; if you can't tell, dealing with this book is A Lot). In fact, the second half of the book is written so well that I nearly recommended the book to my wife, who had patiently borne my frustration about the first half without complaint. Add in the fact that the book's message is interesting and that it has a refreshing take on a somewhat tired theme--I don't know if you've heard, folks, but mass surveillance might not be as good as we think!--and it's not hard to see why people recommended it to me.
But I cannot do the same. I simply cannot recommend, in good conscience, a book which requires sitting through ~300 pages of incomprehensible nonsense for a payoff that, while strong, is not revolutionary. I read books to change how I view the world, yes, but also for enjoyment. And if I'm going to completely sacrifice the latter, as this book demands, the former better be a near-religious form of epiphany. This book, while quite strong on that front, simply does not meet that standard.
Tl;dr: Gnomon is an unforgettable book with a strong second half. In the hands of a more courageous editor, it might've been a true classic. As it is, though, it's simply not worth the effort it demands.
That said, the story line is fabulous if you can keep up (I was okay until about the last third of the book).
After I read this book I read something easy, and hated it. Nick Harkaway has spoiled me. He's as good as Neal Stephenson. I am now reading the rest of Harkaway's books and they are fabulous. Gnomon is a challenge, but worth it.
The result is an exuberant, thriller that draws outside the lines with a glee that is clearly obvious, and I must add, contagious. I couldn't help myself smiling while reading, or crying a few times too. The novel is so alive. You start off being Detective Inspector Mielikki Neith with a stellar reputation, and someone has died in custody of the System, an A.I. that has replaced the government of England by watching everyone everywhere to make sure everyone behaves themselves. If something unseemly does happen, the System can be hooked up to offenders' brain to play back exactly what happened, and fix the offending behaviour using brain microsurgery, so you comply with the herd.
Except someone is dead instead of fixed, the DI must find out what happened - and now things just start to get interesting. If you like books that are thrilling, that require you to pay attention, that take you on a wild rollercoaster ride through history, technology, foreign countries, intrigue, conspiracies, then this is your book. The cast is large and varied. It even included my favourite Saint - St. Augustine. By the time I finished reading, all the TBR on my Kindle looked paltry and flat. I took a break from reading just to process everything from this tale, before I could start again. That rarely happens.
Don't listen to those who say it should be even a single page shorter. I loved every dam n page. I have added Harkaway to my favorite authors list, because anyone who could write this mad, intricate, thoughtful tale, has to write more of the same.
I have one question - why aren't people shouting from the rooftops about this novel, when so many lesser works are being touted as glorious heights of literature? The PR budget, of course. If you read it and love it, review it. (Getting off my soapbox - tidepods, of course)
Good Thumping Read!
Recommended for people who like detective thrillers AND technology, philosophy, alchemy, conspiracies, etc, Just read it.
Top international reviews
I won't spoil the plot, but to me, this is 1984 for the digital age.
Thankfully the kindle dictionary helped with some of the more obscure wording. Not an easy read, but well worth sticking with. My favourite read of 2017.
I'm pleased it's finished!
This book is so awful I’ll just forget it existed.
It’s a splurge of ideas, stream of consciousness and psychobabble that does not come together in a satisfactory way to repay you for sitting through this turgid nonsense.
Undoubtedly will be beloved by pseuds everywhere but take it from someone is is only moderately clever, it’s garbage.
Absolute garbage which is made worse by the font layout on kindle...designed to induce a migraine.
Also , because I couldn’t believe how out of synch I was...if you look at the 5 star reviews it appears this book is virtually the only one that some of those reviewers have read..so cheating is added to the calumny of awfulness.
In this I both fear for and grip my seat in expectation of my next encounter with Mr Harakaways work.
His previous books have been uplifting, horrifying and cause introspection in varied measures but have never ceased to adhere to the mind of the reader.
Gone anyway world I have not re read due to the horror of the story.
Tigerman I have revisited for the gentility and purity of the work
Angel maker I've read over and over for the growth of crazy Jo.
But Gnomon I read on release, and just finished for the second time. The time in between I think I always has some thought of gnomons skewed and strange point if view drawing out at right angels to my actions. I would never claim to hold the story in my mind in totality, as neith says there is too much, but on the second reading the small factors that were hidden to me have fallen more into place making the story more beautiful, sad and knowing.
I could not recommend this book more. I hope one day that the world will have ascended enough that this becomes an academic study in a way we almost went down a dark path, and how stories can be when taken to the highest extreme.
My thanks to the author for an experience unlike any other.
What a TV series it would make! Westworld would seem like Enid Blyton in comparison.
I read a lot, including science fiction/fantasy, and this is the best book I have read this year, if not longer.
And possess me it did. Harkaway writes rich, complex, layered novels and this was no exception. The side stories and subplots twisted and turned upon themselves like a maze, and enticed the reader onward to the.Miniature at it's centre, to the novel's dazzling denouement.
For me, this novel held elements of 1984 , echoes of ancient mythology, and a looped storyline reminiscent of Inception and Cloud Atlas. The character of Mielikki Neith has taken a seat in my psyche alongside Gonzo Lubitsch, and I am in no hurry to usher them out.
Stunning storytelling from a Sci-Fi stalwart.
So what do I mean when I say me? My memories? They are unreliable, and what if technology allowed us to share other people's memories? <spoiler alert> We already can.
What about personality? But if someone looked and behaved exactly like them, wouldn't that make them me?
There's a big mutha of a shark too, just read the damn book already.