My brother doesn’t typically recommend books to me, he’s usually too busy doing other stuff to have a lot of time to ready. So when he sends me an email saying I should read Nick Harkaway’s The Gone Away World, I take note.
Trying to describe The Gone Away World is difficult. It’s post-apocalyptic novel that fuses humor and satire with ninjas, mimes, comic books and video game elements to create something that is definitely unique, at times laugh out loud funny but sadly, ultimately, exhausting to read.
In this future, the ultimate weapon makes people, places and things ‘Go Away’ and replaces them with a fantastical landscape where people’s nightmares come to life. Consequently, humanity has escaped into a walled civilization where pipes spray a mist to keep the ‘Gone Away’ at bay. The story starts with a fire raging at a particularly important pumping station and our hero and his team are called in to put it out, like a futuristic version of Red Adair’s oil well fighters.
Harkaway has a unique writing style that can best be described as the bastard love child of Marcel Proust and Minister Faust. If that sounds interesting, it is, when it’s firing on all cylinders. Which is the frustrating thing about the book, it rarely does so. Harkaway his prone to lengthy, excruciatingly detailed digressions and flashbacks, in fact the entire first 100 pages or so is one long flashback, peppered with pop culture references and riffs on comics, video games and a bunch of other stuff.
Some of this is really terrific. For instance, the narrator’s sensei (master of the ‘Voiceless Dragon’ fighting style) has an awesomely entertaining fight sequence against a bunch of assassin ninjas. Another scene has the narrator and his date being escorted on their night out by a spec ops team acting as waiters, cooks and maitre des, all while in the middle of a battle field. And lets not forget the digression on the efficacy of using sheep to detect landmines and the hilarious scene of a bunch of mimes entering what’s basically a biker bar and using their unique ‘skills’ to get out unscathed.
And that’s the big problem I had with The Gone Away World. The times when Harkaway nails his combination of satire, humor and scene are outstanding. Unfortunately, there is a long slog between them where the writing style and its digressions just wore me out. And being a long book with smallish type just adds that much more stuff to wade through. It was about 2/3 of the way through, after a major event happens to the narrator that I realized I didn’t care any more. Sure the good was great, but there wasn’t enough to keep me going. The weight of the book was oppressive and I wanted to be done with it all ready, so I decided to stop. Note that I am not saying this book is bad or the writing is sub-par. It isn’t. I am saying the style became repetitive and exhausting for me, but Harkaway does write well, specializing in nice turns of phrase. I just wish there was more of the stuff I liked.
Which is rather unfortunate because I’m guessing there is more good stuff in there, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep going (it had all ready taken me almost two weeks to get to where I was). Maybe someday I’ll go back and finish.