Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Gone-Away World

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008
Hardcover, 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307268860
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
A hilarious, action-packed look at the apocalypse that combines a touching tale of friendship, a thrilling war story, and an all out kung-fu infused mission to save the world.

Gonzo Lubitch and his best friend have been inseparable since birth. They grew up together, they studied martial arts together, they rebelled in college together, and they fought in the Go-Away War together. Now, with the world in shambles and dark nightmarish clouds billowing over the wastelands, they have been tapped for an incredibly perilous mission. But they quickly realize that this assignment is not all it seems, and before it is over they will have encountered everything from mimes, ninjas, and pirates to one ultra-sinister mastermind, whose only goal is world domination. Unlike anything else, The Gone-Away World is a remarkable literary debut that will be remembered and rediscovered for years to come.
My Thoughts:

Set in the not-too-distant future after the Go-Away War has been fought, The Gone-Away World begins when a repair crew, which includes our unnamed happily married narrator and his best friend, Gonzo Lubitsch, is hired to put out a fire. But this is a fire on the Jorgmund Pipe, the pipeline that dispenses FOX, the pipeline that the whole civilized world lives near and relies on for their safety. Then Harkaway goes back in time to the childhood of our narrator and Gonzo Lubitsch, following them and all the events which lead up to the Go-Away War and the current crisis.

This is a book that you need to stick with at the beginning (it might even flunk the 50 page rule for some readers) in order to reap a huge payoff in the end. At first the flashback to the childhood of the narrator seems out of place and unnecessary, but, believe me, stick with it and everything will become clear. You will know why the background information was necessary to the story. In fact, there are all sorts of asides and what seem like inconsequential stories that all do become important and meld together in the end. But that's just it - you have to start The Gone-Away World with a commitment to read it to the end.

Harkaway, son of writer John le Carre, is a good writer. He's funny, insightful, verbose, and clever. His sentences are densely packed with descriptions and information. But, as you are reading things seem... off. You know there is more to the world and the characters than you are being told. I absolutely did not see several of the twists coming. Readers also need to keep in mind that this is not a linear, conventional plot.

Now, all that said, The Gone-Away World could have used a bit more editing. Not all the extra verbiage was necessary. There were also elements of stream-of-consciousness writing and cyberpunk that were a wee bit off-putting for me. But, in the end, the humor, plot twists, and fantastical characters (ninjas, mime, pirates) all come together for quite an interesting book.
Very Highly Recommended
- with some reservations


The lights went out in the Nameless Bar just after nine. I was bent over the pool table with one hand in the bald patch behind the D, which Flynn the Barman claimed was beer, but which was the same size and shape as Mrs. Flynn the Barman's arse: nigh on a yard in the beam and formed like the cross-section of a cooking apple. opening

It was a funny feeling: we were looking at the end of the world— again—and we were looking at something awful we'd never wanted to see, but at the same time we were looking at fame and fortune and just about everything we could ever ask for delivered by a grateful populace. We were looking at our reason for being. Because that thar on that thar screen was a fire, plus also a toxic event of the worst kind, and we, Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together, were the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmoor County (corporate HQ the Nameless Bar, CEO Sally J. Culpepper, presiding) and this was the thing that we did better than anyone else in the entire Livable Zone, and therefore anywhere. pg. 5

Most people tried very hard to avoid noticing the Pipe. They had euphemisms for it, as if it were cancer or impotence or the Devil, which it was. In some places they painted it bold colours and pretended it was an art project, or built things in front of it or even grew flowers on it. Only in pissant remora towns like this one did you get to see the thing itself; the rusty and despised spine of who we were, carrying vital solidity and safety, and the illusion of continuance, to every nook and cranny of the Livable Zone.

In truth it was not a loop at all, but a weird bird's-nest tangle. There were hairpin bends and corkscrews, and places where subsidiary hoses jutted out from the main line to reach little towns on the edges, and places where the Livable Zone pulled close about the Pipe like a matron drawing up her skirts to cross a stream, where the weather and the lie of the land brought the outside perilously close; but taken all together it made a sort of rough circle girdling the Earth. A place to have a home. Get more than twenty miles from the Pipe (Old JP, they called it in Haviland City, where the Jorgmund Company had its headquarters, or sometimes the Big Snake or the Silver) and you were in the inimical no-man's-land between the Livable Zone and the bloody nightmare of the unreal world. Sometimes it was safe, and sometimes it wasn't. We called it the Border, and we went through it when we had to, when it was the only way to get somewhere in any reasonable length of time, when the alternative was a long drive around three sides of a square and the emergency wouldn't wait. All the same, we went in force and we went quickly, lightly, and we kept an eye on the weather. If the wind changed, or the pressure dropped; if we saw clouds on the horizon we didn't like, or strange folks, or animals which weren't quite right, we turned tail and ran back to the Pipe. People who lived in the Border didn't always stay people. We carried FOX in canisters, and we hoped it would be enough. pg. 9-10

In other words, this was a honey trap. If you're giving guys like us kit like that to do a gig like this, it's because either 1)you're going to make a ton of profit or 2) you don't think we have a rat's chance of coming back alive. pg. 20

In the still hours of the night-time in houses all around the Pipe, people woke, and listened, and were afraid of things from beyond the Border. Somebody out there ate towns, whole, and went on his way. People said it was the Found Thousand. I hoped that wasn't true. pg. 25

Mr. Hampton bows very low to Master Wu and thanks him for the lesson. Master Wu says Mr. Hampton is very welcome, and Mr. Hampton says that he wishes he had known Master Wu when he was Ophelia's age, to which Master Wu respond that when Mr. Hampton was Ophelia's age, Master Wu was a wild and intemperate youth much given to drinking and taking off his trousers in public places. Mr. Hampton smiles and says that he supposes this is not impossible, and Master Wu avers that there are photographs to prove it, although no one will ever see them. Mr. Hampton says that is probably for the best. pg. 57

I have heard of people who fought with their anger, who made rage into a physical force. I have never heard of anyone doing it with sorrow. pg. 63


Jeanne said...

This is one of my favorite books ever. I like excess verbiage.

Lori L said...

I actually think I picked this one up on your recommendation, Jeanne. I'm still planning to read the sequel, Angelmaker, which I know you've read and enjoyed.