Gnomonby Nick Harkaway Published 19 Oct 2017
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In the world of Gnomon, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of 'transparency.' Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens' thoughts and memories--all in the name of providing the safest society in history.
When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody, it marks the first time a citizen has been killed during an interrogation. The System doesn't make mistakes, but something isn't right about the circumstances surrounding Hunter's death. Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, what she finds isn't Hunter but rather a panorama of characters within Hunter's psyche: a lovelorn financier in Athens who has a mystical experience with a shark; a brilliant alchemist in ancient Carthage confronting the unexpected outcome of her invention; an expat Ethiopian painter in London designing a controversial new video game, and a sociopathic disembodied intelligence from the distant future.
Embedded in the memories of these impossible lives lies a code which Neith must decipher to find out what Hunter is hiding. In the static between these stories, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter--and, alarmingly, of herself. The staggering consequences of what she finds will reverberate throughout the world.
DNF'ed at 32%. I tried. I really, really did.
Another week, Another DNF.
Scifi is one of my favorite genres but lately, it feels like every time I pick up a sci-fi novel to read - I'm extremely bored, confused, and disappointed. I received this book in a PageHabit box that a friend bought for me. Her heart was in the right place but this book belongs in the trash.
I did not care for the synopsis. Wow, another dystopian society where the government sees and records your every move. So shook, I've definitely haven't read this a thousand times before. This is such an innovative idea.
Basic af plot aside, my primary issue stems from the writing. The author is guilty of data dumping what feels like useless information for pages on end, to the point where the story almost feels convoluted. This shouldn't be a story that's difficult to follow and yet it was. There's a break in the narrative where one of the protagonists has what I can only describe as a spiritual experience with a shark. Yes. You read that right. Although it was one of the more interesting sections to read, I couldn't help but feel that the story was all over the place.
There were various sections where I had to pause my reading and I ask myself: "What is happening?"
I just don't understand how the pacing was so unbelievably slow and I still missed how entire sections went from point A to point B. This book just wasn't for me. I made it to page two-hundred and something and I couldn't get emotionally invested in any of the characters. They weren't even slightly interesting to me. The more I read, the more distant I felt from the story (and the recondite terms definitely didn't help).
Overall, it felt like I spent the majority of my time and effort on concentrating, on trying to understand what was happening rather than on enjoying anything. I'm sure this is a very clever book for some readers. I'm sure there are people out there who read this book and were mindblown, but I will never be one of those people.
Side note: I discovered a new pet peeve. Long af sentences to describe or state something that can be said in a few words. I don't need a 1k worded prose to tell me the sun is hot. Condense the writing, please.
First off, I received this as an ARC from Penguin Random House. Thank You.
This book fits squarely in the category "what in the heck did I just read". It kind of has a "House of Leaves" feel to it. It's like a Russian nesting doll and The Lament Configuration all in one big puzzle.
It does start off slow, but give it time. Once you start to work to puzzle out you will see why.
This story also screams undertones of Phillip K. Dick. So if you love Dick's work, this is a treat.
Gnomon is actually a novel that defies description for all the right reasons, it is an epic, an ultimately rewarding read with so many layers inside the layers under the levels that hide the realities that your head will spin and you’ll come out of it feeling dazed and probably weirdly wired. Or maybe that is just me. We’ll see I guess…
The use of language is purely beautiful, a smorgasbord of differing voices all linked to the main bulk of the narrative through the eyes of the Inspector. Probably. But anyway – the point is, this is literary if you take it in the popularly defined way, as such it might not be for everybody and indeed may challenge you in ways I also can’t describe – but in the end you know not one word was wasted.
I feel I should try and explain a little about the plot but the blurb does that in some ways (but not at all in others) and I’m not sure that if I focus on any one element that I wouldn’t pick the wrong one to focus on. Peripherally it is about the investigation of an interrogation that has gone awry, in a UK run by “the System” that sees all and therefore by the people rather than a government, this is seen by most within that system as a genuine Utopia. I guess the main theme explored is whether such a thing is even possible, human nature being what it is. That is the simplest way of saying what I saw there but the next reader may well turn around and say “what the heck are you on, its not about that at all”
Now I’ve read back the above it probably isn’t about that….
ANYWAY there you go. Nick Harkaway has created a story that can be wildly interpretive or I suppose if you must, dissected bit by bit until you come to some thoughts about what the author intended – but I don’t think it matters what the author intended (sorry Mr Harkaway) but more matters whether or not you love it and get something from it under the guise of your own personality. I loved it but you can’t ask me why because I don’t really know and probably never will know. I do know that I will read it again in the future, first page to last, with the knowledge of the ending and it will be a completely different novel to the one that I have just read.
Basically I feel like I have just been swallowed by a shark.
Gnomon spoke to me in it’s final denouement but what it said I will never tell -because it’s going to tell you something different and I wouldn’t want to be called a liar – also because that is its reward for sticking with it, through the craziness and the sense of it as you absorb all those beautiful words and turn them into a whole.
Intelligent, driven, for me summed up in that blurb sentence that reads “a solution that steps sideways as you approach it” Gnomon is challenging, wonderful, descriptively fascinating, unrelentingly clever and in the end worth every moment of your time. A grand sprawling epic of indescribable proportions.
What can I say? Highly Recommended.
This was far too dense for me. I can see that this is literary fantasy/ dystopia, but I really couldn’t get on with it. I like books, generally speaking,that make the reader “work for it” but I was doing all the work and not getting much pleasure!
Many thanks to Netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is one of those books that makes you feel that for years you've been killing time with other books, treading water offshore, waiting for a shark to find you. It stretches the sense of what books can do. It gets better the more you think about it, the more you give to it. It's not just a pageturner, though it's that... Not just a literary novel or a science fiction novel, though it's both... I think it really does find more space for the art.
Where's the goddamn sixth star?
When I reviewed Harkaway's novel Angelmaker five years ago, I expressed a worry that Harkaway was boxing himself in. That he had settled on exactly one application for his formidable talents -- a boisterous but ultimately fluffy type of sci-fi adventure story -- and that he was never going to do something rawer, more messily human, something with goals beyond the efficient optimization of entertainment density per page.
My fears were misplaced. Gnomon is, in many ways, the exact book I was hoping for from Harkaway when I wrote that review. It drops the "everyman hero meets a succession of endearing but disposable extras" structure of the earlier novels, and instead alternates between a cast of core characters who are each given ample space to breathe, to live, to speak in their own voices, to mess up, to be confused. It is about unsettling things, and it aims to unsettle the reader when appropriate; it does not think that we need to be strung along with the promise of candy on every new page, and its scenes and chapters do not break down nicely into different sugary flavors (the big fight, the comedy routine, the teary parting or reunion, the surgically deployed plot twist). It is clearly a heartfelt work by a man who wants to say something about the real world, even if he is entertaining us as he does it.
The only problem is that it . . . uh . . . isn't very good.
Part of the charm of Harkaway's earlier work was the way it under-promised and over-delivered. It was cheesy entertainment, executed uncommonly well. You could tell this Harkaway guy had talent to burn, but he wasn't rubbing his smarts and skills in your face: they were experienced as a long series of pleasant surprises, layered without fanfare over the competent, serviceable sci-fi adventure you knew you were getting when you bought your ticket.
In Gnomon, Harkaway over-promises and under-delivers. Fragments of esoterica or wordplay that would, in earlier novels, have been thrown as a light garnish onto one page and forgotten on the next are now treated with the utmost gravity, and expected to bear ten or twenty pages of load each. We are reading a detective story, and so every shiny tidbit Harkaway pulls out of his magpie's collection is a potential clue. The Greek word catabasis is mentioned early on, and then mentioned again, and mulled over by the detective. There are many catabases in this narrative, it turns out, and we are reminded of this regularly.
Words, phrases, and themes recur, and we are rarely allowed to forget that this is the sort of book where such things recur, and everything is or might be connected. We are supposed say, "oh, what a tangled web he weaves!", and in case we need helping along in this, we are nudged endlessly by the narrative, which -- no matter which character it follows, no matter which layer of the multiply nested metafiction (oh what a tangled web) -- never fails to notice, to admire or bemoan, its own tangled esoteric fancy meta nature.
All of this is clearly meant, sometimes, to touch upon topics of importance in ground-level, non-fictional reality. But with so many layers of misdirection, so many false leads whose false notes could well be features rather than bugs, it is hard to tell which notes are meant to be the true ones. When I balk at a near-future surveillance state whose creepy AI-overseen direct democracy is literally called "The System," am I just demanding too much realism from something whose fakeness has a tangled-web purpose? What am I to make of the fact that the overseeing AI is gifted with almost godlike abilities -- far beyond any reasonable extrapolation of present-day technology, and probably sufficient to pass the Turing Test and usher in a whole host of issues never raised in the narrative -- and yet can apparently be completely fooled by a widely known (but illegal) computer program which the detective downloads and uses later on in the story? If she can use this program, why isn't everyone using it, and why doesn't that completely destroy the orderly society she appears to live in?
At one point, a lawyer who knows she is being watched by an agent of a shadowy and powerful para-governmental organization says, to her clients, that this organization represents "a merger of state and corporate power." One of her clients, known to his friends as a weirdo conspiracy nut, later explains to the others that the lawyer passed them a clever covert message, by saying this -- a message only people like him, and apparently no one in the shadowy and powerful para-governmental organization, would understand. Have you got it yet? Have you been in the right classroom, or, hell, read the right Wikipedia page? Yes:
“So the thing I said that she said she couldn’t advise on: that’s the thing she would advise if it wasn’t outside her professional competence. See? That’s what she thinks we ought to do. Blow it all wide open. But she can’t say that with squit in the room or they’ll say she advised us to break the law or whatever and take away her funny hat.”
“She’s a solicitor,” Annie said primly.
“Whatever. That’s what she’s telling us to do.”
“I thought she was telling us not to do that.”
“Yeah. Squit probably thinks so, too. Fuck him.”
“You’re getting all this from what she said about Turnpike?”
“Basically. It was a bit of a red flag. What, it really doesn’t mean anything at all to you? Still?”
“Colson,” Annie said. “You’re an info-rat. Not everyone’s brain works that way. The merger of state and corporate power: why is it important?”
Colson scowled as if both the question and the answer were part of some conspiracy of which he particularly disapproved. “It’s one of the basic victory conditions of Italian Fascism,” he said.
There are some good stories and characters, or at least parts of them, in here. They live and breathe for a time, each of them, but ultimately, this book is not about them. It is about its oh-so-tangled web, made up of little bits of book learning, strewn like bread crumbs for the detective and reader to pick up and marvel over. What we are left with is a very fancy, and intermittently very well done, version of a Dan Brown novel. But we are not promised Dan Brown and given something better; we are promised the world, and given Dan Brown.