The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
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This was one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read for a while and I’m really not sure if it’s the best I’ve read recently or the worst. Though I’m more inclined to think the former. But how to describe it? Science fiction or fantasy (not magic type fantasy though), martial arts, pre- and post-apocalyptic, weird, comedy or satire, anti-war diatribe, psychological, self-indulgent debut… it’s all of these things and, if I’d known how many different ingredients had gone into it, I probably never would have started it. And yet somehow all these bits hang together to produce a crazy but largely coherent whole.

Right at the beginning of the book the reader is made aware that we are in a strange post-apocalyptic world created by a bizarre war involving bombs that ‘made stuff go away.’ Then almost immediately we go back in time to learn how the world, the never named narrator and all his comrades managed to get to this point. So now things shift to a more normal near future SF setting (with some martial arts thrown in) and it’s probably halfway through before we catch up with the book’s beginning. This structure works well and is probably essential for any sort of understanding but the prospective reader should be aware that there will be many strange aspects to this story that will not make complete sense until much later in the book.

This is an enormously brave and ambitious book for a debut but then, as David Cornwell’s, aka John le Carré’s, son it’s probably only to be expected. It is at times very self-indulgent, it constantly runs off on, admittedly frequently hilarious, extended digressions, which is where the comedy angle comes in rather than the plot which is far more serious in its nature. These digressions have distinct similarities with the likes of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett (though there the similarities end) in that they will take largely prosaic stuff from everyday life and twist it into the absurd in much the same way some comedians will tell an hilarious story without really telling any jokes. This is undoubtedly fun but there is possibly a little too much of it; by around the 300-page mark (of 500) I was beginning to think along the lines of ‘Oh no, not another digression, just get on with the plot, already! I want to know what happens next!’ But really this is a small complaint and for the most part I recommend putting your seat belt on and getting ready for a wild ride.

This is certainly worth reading but, I suspect, it is a marmite book; you’ll probably either love it or hate it but possibly, like me, you won’t be sure which!

4/5 stars
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
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Great review.
I didn’t know he was Le Carre’s son.
I understand he specifically chose a pen name to try and avoid the association. Didn't want to succeed purely on the back of his father's name. However, apparently, his publisher made sure his real identity was well publicised. But, like you, I was unaware of this until after I'd read it!
 

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