Review: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away WorldThe end of the world has never looked quite like this. In Nick Harkaway’s novel The Gone-Away World, a pipeline filled with a miraculous substance known as FOX is the only thing standing between the last remnants of civilization and the “Stuff,” a mysterious and dangerous threat. The story begins post-catastrophe, as the narrator heads off on a job with his team, then restarts when he is a crying child in a sandbox, at the moment his pivotal friendship with Gonzo Lubitsch begins.

I was a bit disconcerted by the sudden leap backward into childhood, especially when our unnamed hero begins studying gong fu with Master Wu Shenyang, head of the School of the Voiceless Dragon. I didn’t expect this to be the type of book where ninjas might launch a secret attack, and yet, there they were. While this book is filled with what appear to be a series of digressions, these episodes are leading to a point. It wasn’t obvious or predictable, but it shifted the entire story and made everything leading up to it more meaningful in retrospect.

A wacky light-heartedness characterizes the tone throughout much of the novel, yet it was punctuated with moments of real grief and pain. It reminded me of Neal Stephenson with a dash of Jasper Fforde. I most enjoyed the profound existential questions The Gone-Away World raises, even if it did raise them in the context of mimes, ninjas and an entire taxonomy of pencil necks.

Genre: Post-apocalyptic existential fiction.

Read it if: You think you’ve read every possible way the world could end (you haven’t!); you love twists that don’t feel like gimmicks; you prefer the long and winding road to the straight and narrow path.

Skip it if: You have a strong antipathy toward mimes and/or ninjas; you like novels that get to the point; you are uncomfortable with the sense of growing unease that comes with an impending plot twist.

Movie-worthy: I could maybe imagine a Terry Gilliam version of this book, but otherwise it’s hard to picture.



One comment on “Review: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

  1. […] long ago I read Nick Harkaway’s fascinating novel The Gone-Away World and thought about it long after turning the final page. When I saw his new book, Tigerman, on the […]

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