If I had asked someone to write a book tailored specifically to my interests, attention patterns, sense of humor, and favorite writing style, while in...moreIf I had asked someone to write a book tailored specifically to my interests, attention patterns, sense of humor, and favorite writing style, while including a unique plot, unpredictable and engaging characters, and a post-apocalyptic setting unlike one I've ever seen before, they might have come up with Nick Harkaway'sThe Gone-Away World. Certainly, they could do no better. The Gone-Away World falls exactly into a certain category of novels that is impossible to describe. I could try: It's about a gang of soldiers-cum-truckers who are called on to put out a fire in the real-world-sustaining Pipe, assisted by a troupe of mimes and also some Indian runner ducks. It's about Harkaway's protagonist and his best friend, Gonzo, who grow up in a tiny town called Cricklewood Cove under the protection of the School of the Voiceless Dragon and a surprisingly clever headmistress, and get into hijinks that occasionally involve pyrotechnics and college, and accidentally going to war. It could also be about what happens when the world is made to Go Away by dint of a new and untested anti-bomb, and the strange circumstances that the survivors need to navigate, using pigs, some very nasty gong-fu, and the disturbingly odd and possibly anagrammatical Dr. Andromas. And that's not even mentioning the strangest love quadrangle in fiction or the tribulations of wartime sheep.
Amid all of the ridiculousness, Harkaway manages to pick out a compelling storyline that is strangely believable. More than that, he is downright insightful - not in the profound, "dust unto dust" way, but in a more relatable, everyday sense. Describing horror and disgust: "I feel as if I have overturned a stone, expecting insects, and discovered that the stone itself is nothing but a vast mass of bugs." It's impossible not to know what he means. The whole book is like that - descriptions that are somehow exactly right, but have never been named before.
A review of this book is probably not complete without mention of the twist, but I won't say more than that it's clever and brilliantly executed, and it makes reading it a second time absolutely necessary.
I really can't put enough accolades here. I know that lots of people won't like The Gone-Away World (too roundabout, not standard, utterly ridiculous), but like I said at the start, it feels like this was written for people with my standards, and I loved all of it. It's original, laugh-out-loud funny, multi-dimensional, and engrossing. Absolutely recommended.
Good lines: (side note: this book is eminently quotable. Maybe 50% of it would look good on a facebook page, so I'm not even going to try to pull up my favorites.)
"Spring becomes summer, summer becomes autumn, and Gonzo and his beloved part company over her inability to comprehend the importance of muddy walks and frantic leaf kicking."
"Just hearing Master Wu say 'ninja' is like hearing a concert cellist play "Mama Mia" on the ukelele. Ninjas are silly. They are the flower fairies of gong-fu and karate. they can jump higher than a house and burrow through the ground. They know how to turn invisible...and that, surely, is Master Wu's point. He is making with the funny."
"It's like crying, the way wine is like water."
"It takes persons of courage and unusual skill to make flapjacks at a time like this."
"Perhaps Professor Derek - accursed be his name and his seed in eternity, and may giant badgers pursue him for ever through the Bewildering Hell of Fire Ants, Soap Opera and Urethral Infections - is still alive and trying to clean up his mess."
I would love to quote the shrew passage here, but I might run into copyright infringement if I type out as much as I want to. Or bore people. (less)