Gnomon
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.

Gnomon Details

TitleGnomon
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 19th, 2017
PublisherWilliam Heinemann
Rating
GenreFiction, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Mystery, Fantasy

Gnomon Review

  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    This is a strange multi-layered beast of a book set in a future Britain under total surveillance, governed by the System, where the majority of people remarkably believe this is a good thing. It is a dense and demanding sci-fi and fantasy read requiring attention and patience from the reader. It would be remiss of me not to mention that at 700+ pages, you need to prepared for the long haul. This is a sprawling tale which goes in a myriad of directions and left me bewildered as to where it was he This is a strange multi-layered beast of a book set in a future Britain under total surveillance, governed by the System, where the majority of people remarkably believe this is a good thing. It is a dense and demanding sci-fi and fantasy read requiring attention and patience from the reader. It would be remiss of me not to mention that at 700+ pages, you need to prepared for the long haul. This is a sprawling tale which goes in a myriad of directions and left me bewildered as to where it was heading and what to make of what I was reading. Inspector Mielikki Neith of Witness is investigating the death of Diana Hunter, which to all intents to purposes should not have occurred whilst she was being interrogated. Diana was 61 years old, divorced with no children. She was an administrator and the writer of Quairendo, rumoured to contain secret truths hidden within it although this is disputed.Inspector Neath is one of those who believes in the good of the system, but as she investigates she is forced to question her beliefs. Nothing is fixed, not even time or notions of reality. The story revolves around the complex issues of identity, shifting and changing realities and questions of what it all might mean, although the conclusion does help a little. I expect every reader to have different concepts and thoughts as to what this novel is about because it is difficult to discern what intentions the author has. This level of nebulousness is likely to leave many readers deeply frustrated. This is a difficult review to write, I find myself in the quandry of knowing I cannot do justice to this book or even delineate precisely what it is about. If you are happy to be left stranded to make of it what you will, then this is a book for you. There are detailed descriptions, it is beautifully written and slow paced. The vocabulary the author uses is extensive and likely to having you reach for the dictionary often. A novel that succeeds in leaving me shaking my head and, at the same time, enthralled. I am at a loss as to what else to say! Many thanks to Random House Cornerstone for an ARC.
    more
  • Liz Barnsley
    January 1, 1970
    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. Probabl 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.
    more
  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I really struggled with this, unfortunately and couldn't finish it. The premise seemed really interesting - I love dystopian fiction, but I found the story overly long and convoluted. It was very slow paced, with large sections devoted to descriptions, and unloading a lot of information in one go, making it difficult to hold my attention. I also struggled to get emotionally invested in anything that happened. Unfortunately not for I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I really struggled with this, unfortunately and couldn't finish it. The premise seemed really interesting - I love dystopian fiction, but I found the story overly long and convoluted. It was very slow paced, with large sections devoted to descriptions, and unloading a lot of information in one go, making it difficult to hold my attention. I also struggled to get emotionally invested in anything that happened. Unfortunately not for me, but I'm sure those looking for a deep novel that requires a lot of concentration with a hint of science fiction will love it.
    more
  • Bookteafull (Danny)
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
    more
  • Max
    January 1, 1970
    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?
    more
  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • Quirkyreader
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • Paul McNeil
    January 1, 1970
    To put my review of this book in perspective, I wrote my MA thesis on the concept of "memoria ajena," or characters remembering other people's memories, in works by Jorge Luis Borges, Ricardo Piglia, y Rodrigo Fresán, three Argentine authors whose works blend metafictional concerns, high culture, and science fiction and fantasy elements. If Gnomon were written in Spanish, it would have been an ideal fit for my thesis, a perfect overlap with all my favorite fictional obsessions, and it's my favor To put my review of this book in perspective, I wrote my MA thesis on the concept of "memoria ajena," or characters remembering other people's memories, in works by Jorge Luis Borges, Ricardo Piglia, y Rodrigo Fresán, three Argentine authors whose works blend metafictional concerns, high culture, and science fiction and fantasy elements. If Gnomon were written in Spanish, it would have been an ideal fit for my thesis, a perfect overlap with all my favorite fictional obsessions, and it's my favorite read of the last few years.That said, I'm not sure most readers would love it as much as I did- it's a 700-page Borgesian Russian nesting doll of novel, made out of the elemental particles ejected when Cloud Atlas and Inception are crashed into each other at the Large Hadron Collider, a meditation on identity, surveillance, artificial intelligence, the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world, and really big sharks. There are radical shifts in narrator and style, and the reader will be as confused as the detective trying to figure out why a reclusive, rebellious writer died during an "interrogation," what near-future England, under the watchful care of the all-seeing AI known as The Witness, calls having a small hole bored into your head and your memories read directly. Memories and lies unfold, bleed into each other, warp the plot. For the reader to whom this sounds like a good time, dive right in, the water's fine. Well, except for the really big shark.
    more
  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    The first novel that I have read by Nick Harkaway. From the initial blurb that I read on Netgalley and Goodreads, the book sounded great. However, for me this was a very slow read and when I first started reading the book it felt like the author had swallowed a dictionary. To be very honest and I know this sounds brutal, but I found it boring. This is only my opinion and I am sure many other readers will disagree with me. I'm very disappointed.Many thanks to Netgalley for the copy in return for The first novel that I have read by Nick Harkaway. From the initial blurb that I read on Netgalley and Goodreads, the book sounded great. However, for me this was a very slow read and when I first started reading the book it felt like the author had swallowed a dictionary. To be very honest and I know this sounds brutal, but I found it boring. This is only my opinion and I am sure many other readers will disagree with me. I'm very disappointed.Many thanks to Netgalley for the copy in return for my honest and unbiased opinion.
    more
  • Peter Tillman
    January 1, 1970
    Made Adam Robert's best-of 2017 list, https://www.theguardian.com/books/201..."And then there is Gnomon (William Heinemann), Nick Harkaway’s most ambitious novel yet. This story of near-future mass surveillance, artificial intelligence and human identity reads as if 11 novels have been crowded into a matter-transporter pod, emerging on the other side weirdly melded. An enormous, shaggy, infuriating, amazing and quite unforgettable piece of fiction, it’s the kind of thing only science fiction can Made Adam Robert's best-of 2017 list, https://www.theguardian.com/books/201..."And then there is Gnomon (William Heinemann), Nick Harkaway’s most ambitious novel yet. This story of near-future mass surveillance, artificial intelligence and human identity reads as if 11 novels have been crowded into a matter-transporter pod, emerging on the other side weirdly melded. An enormous, shaggy, infuriating, amazing and quite unforgettable piece of fiction, it’s the kind of thing only science fiction can do."Not sure it's my sort of thing -- plus, 704 pp! And the library doesn't have it, yet. Still....
    more
  • R
    January 1, 1970
    This took me so long to finish. One of the mist dense, confusing, intelligent and beautifully written novels Ive come across. Dont go in wanting a quick easy read. This 700 page behemoth will take awhile for thr average reader. Thisi is also more Lit than scifi. There were times I had to re read passages and even look up words haha. The blurb gives you a cergain background to the story but it doesnt really give you much. Even trying to describe what I read is impossible. My best friend also read This took me so long to finish. One of the mist dense, confusing, intelligent and beautifully written novels Ive come across. Dont go in wanting a quick easy read. This 700 page behemoth will take awhile for thr average reader. Thisi is also more Lit than scifi. There were times I had to re read passages and even look up words haha. The blurb gives you a cergain background to the story but it doesnt really give you much. Even trying to describe what I read is impossible. My best friend also read it and we both took different ideas, concepts and views on what happened. If you like beautiful prose with a snail pace plot but with weird scifi concepts ( could be scarily true in a few years time) then give this a shot.
    more
  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    Soo.... Nick Harkaway. He's a funny guy, yeah?A funny guy with an enormous vocabulary.Who likes to mess with his readers.It's cool Nick. I didn't want to understand your book anyway, and just so you know we're cool, I gave it 4 stars, because you're a funny guy.Seriously- trying to put this book into words is tremendously difficult. The running theme is: fugue, catabasis, apocatastasis, connectome, gnomon, the list goes on but these were the ones I had to Google enough times to remember. And jus Soo.... Nick Harkaway. He's a funny guy, yeah?A funny guy with an enormous vocabulary.Who likes to mess with his readers.It's cool Nick. I didn't want to understand your book anyway, and just so you know we're cool, I gave it 4 stars, because you're a funny guy.Seriously- trying to put this book into words is tremendously difficult. The running theme is: fugue, catabasis, apocatastasis, connectome, gnomon, the list goes on but these were the ones I had to Google enough times to remember. And just so we're clear, the kindle dictionary refuses to define or translate catabasis. We're good now though, I will never ever forget the meaning or translation of catabasis ever again. And for those of you sneering down your nose at me wondering where I get off calling these difficult- please know that some of them have multiple meanings and Harkaway does not find using all the meanings even a little daunting. It's all very clever in the end.Furthermore- that is just a bare fraction of the words I had to attempt to define while reading this book. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not a light fluffy beach read. Do you have an engagement ring picked out? You're going to need it. This is a commitment.Did it pay off in the end? I don't know that it did. At the heart of it was a glaringly obvious message that's been seen before. In much tinier packages. With less words. However- for the parts that I did understand, it was a lot of fun. Constantine Kyriakos's chapter was pure unadulterated joy for me. I understood that sarcastic asshole on a level that is so very fundamental to my being. Berihun Bekele's story spoke to me. Made me want to weep for him, cheer for him. More than I wanted anyone else in this book to succeed, I wanted Bekele to succeed. Gnomon gave us a bunch of psychobabble that was delightfully wicked to read. The Inspector Neith chapters were fun, trying to solve the mystery with her, picking up on clues and connecting the threads.I do think that Harkaway is clever. I will probably read his other work in the future. Not any time soon because my brain needs a break. But there are moments when reading this that I wondered at the genius of it. Gnomon is written in a very specific and precise way, and Harkaway, through words makes you feel like the Witness to these events which I do believe is how the reader is supposed to feel. Part of the book. Part of the characters. Part of the system. Are you for it, or against it? Even in the careless, reckless way in which I fumbled through this book- I was made to feel that way in the end. I might even consider a re-read of it someday, though I don't think I'd go it alone.So- read this. Laugh with it. Rage at it. Weep for it. But do it over the course of a few weeks. Have Google ready. Get rid of the kids. Send them out with your SO in fact. Maybe they can take the dog too. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for the long haul. I would recommend this to fans of dystopians looking for a good old fashioned riddle to solve.
    more
  • nostalgebraist
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
    more
  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    The bookshop is closed, but [the proprietor] goes down to the back office, puts on the kettle and opens the door. People will be very alarmed, and in his experience they always feel better knowing there's a bookshop open.I did something extremely rare with this book – I re-read 150 pages to better understand what was actually happening. It worked, but... there's an incredible amount of complexity here, and I'm not sure it's all necessary.First, big kudos for Harkaway attempting and (mostly) pull The bookshop is closed, but [the proprietor] goes down to the back office, puts on the kettle and opens the door. People will be very alarmed, and in his experience they always feel better knowing there's a bookshop open.I did something extremely rare with this book – I re-read 150 pages to better understand what was actually happening. It worked, but... there's an incredible amount of complexity here, and I'm not sure it's all necessary.First, big kudos for Harkaway attempting and (mostly) pulling off such a dense, difficult novel. There are no cheap shortcuts or tricks that are presented to the reader; there's complex (more to come on that) and complicated story threads, but it's all earned and well-done. The plot is delicately crafted, extremely creative, and fun. I enjoyed the solidly-built characters and the whodunit storylines the most. Harkaway has an amazing gift as a storyteller with an eye for the near future, and I'm a lifelong fan at this point.There are two aspects of Gnomon that I think will throw off many readers, and both of them discouraged me as well, which I was not expecting. First off, there's difficult language. I need to find a way to rate the rarity of words (I can apparently pay $120 to purchase a ranking? But I'm not.) On the fifth page of the book, Harkaway used four words that I had never seen before. I'm used to letting one or two slip by sometimes, but to encounter four in a single page is unusual – and daunting for many readers. I had to (metaphorically) drag out the big dictionary on these, and I believe a simpler word would have sufficed. Luckily, it let up later on, but still: calm down.The second item was the complexity of the plot. When the book ended, I sort of knew what had happened, but it didn't mesh properly. I knew there were a few things that I must have overlooked in how the story came together, or didn't understand correctly, but whole aspects of the story just didn't make sense. To a certain degree, I really do love piecing a mystery together, untangling everything and figuring it out. This came really close to my breaking point, however, and while I'm glad I went back and re-read those 150 pages to figure it out, I came very close to not doing that and being forever denied the true depth and intensity of the story.I have a hard time recommending this as much as I would recommend Harkaway's other books, but it was still enjoyable and I wouldn't discourage anyone who is up for the challenge. Just don't forget your (metaphorical) dictionary.---For those reading this that are curious about the pieces I had to untangle to understand how the novel ends, I will try to spell it out here. I haven't been able to find this written out anywhere else online, and considering how much time I spent looking for it, I figure I won't be the only person who wishes it to be available. Apologies if this is in some way incorrect or incoherent. (view spoiler)[Hopefully you got as far as understanding that (nearly) the entire novel falls within Annie Bekele's false memory narrative that is being extracted from her in an (ongoing) real-life interrogation by real-life Smith. Neither character is dead in real-life, just in Annie's memory narrative, which is the only place where Neith exists. Neith is actually the trick narrative that is inserted by Smith into those memories, in a hope of using that character to stop Annie from using her interrogation to insert the virus that will destroy the real-life System. However, Annie builds a counter-narrative and inserts that into her memory – the Gnomon as Lönnrot. The Gnomon's job is to consolidate each of the fake memories created by Diana Hunter and to nudge Neith to see the corruption inherent in the System. By using those memories to move Neith's brain to be more like Annie's, Neith is no longer in favor of it existing. This turns real-life Smith's creation against him, and against the System as a whole. The virus needs all five elements to authenticate (i.e., name, code, item, etc) and Neith gathers those items and then goes ahead and activates the virus. This happens within inside Annie's memory, which, since it is plugged into the real-life System, triggers the destruction of that System by the virus.This very basic summary doesn't at all do the book justice, and also doesn't include several final layers that are critical to appreciating the book to its fullest. Those are perhaps even more important that my convoluted summary above. (hide spoiler)]
    more
  • S.J. Higbee
    January 1, 1970
    I normally read quite quickly – I’ve read 157 books so far this year. But this one took me nearly two weeks to complete. Partly it’s the fact that it is something of a doorstopper at over 700 pages, but the main reason was that early on I took the decision that I wouldn’t speed-read through this one. The prose is too rich, too dense – there are too many allusions and clues scattered throughout and as you may have gathered from the blurb, the structure isn’t all that straightforward, either.It mi I normally read quite quickly – I’ve read 157 books so far this year. But this one took me nearly two weeks to complete. Partly it’s the fact that it is something of a doorstopper at over 700 pages, but the main reason was that early on I took the decision that I wouldn’t speed-read through this one. The prose is too rich, too dense – there are too many allusions and clues scattered throughout and as you may have gathered from the blurb, the structure isn’t all that straightforward, either.It might have been tempting to have accelerated through it if I hadn’t been enjoying the experience so much. Harkaway is a remarkable writer and this is him at the peak of his capabilities. For all the depth and complexity, I found the book highly readable and engrossing. It would have been a real shame to have thrown away the experience by trying to skim through it. The writing is immersive and each character has their own flavour so that after a while, it only took a couple of lines to realise whose head I was in. Essentially, it is a thriller. But the puzzle is far more of the slow-burn variety, which doesn’t stop there being some jaw-dropping twists near the end.For all their quirkiness, I was fond of all the characters, though my favourites remained dogged, persistent Inspector Mielikki Neith whose investigation of the untimely death of Diana Hunter in custody triggers the whole chain of events – and fierce, beautiful Athenais, once-mistress to Saint Augustine, before he decided to become so saintly. The characterisation is masterly and as I’m a sucker for character-led stories, it was their vividness and sheer oddness that sucked me in and kept me reading.I also feel a similar anger that sparks through the book – the apathy of too many of us, the blind belief that if we put in place a whole raft of cameras and electronic surveillance, it will somehow be alright, no matter who ends up at the helm and in charge. This is a remarkable, brave book, deliberately constructed and written on an epic scale. Does it work? Oh yes. I loved it, but my firm advice would be – don’t rush it. If you try reading this one in a hurry, you’ll end up throwing it out of the window – and given its size, it may cause serious injury if it hits someone…While I obtained the arc of Gnomon from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.10/10
    more
  • Bridget
    January 1, 1970
    You need to be match fit for a Nick Harkaway, you need to prepare for massive vocabulary, difficult concepts, layer upon layer of story and get yourself ready to be taken on a trip where you don't have a map and you just have to surrender yourself to the captain of the journey and trust you will get there in the end. Usually this works really well for me, but sadly not this time. I just couldn't get into it. I did love the complicated words, I liked the main character, but I got horribly confuse You need to be match fit for a Nick Harkaway, you need to prepare for massive vocabulary, difficult concepts, layer upon layer of story and get yourself ready to be taken on a trip where you don't have a map and you just have to surrender yourself to the captain of the journey and trust you will get there in the end. Usually this works really well for me, but sadly not this time. I just couldn't get into it. I did love the complicated words, I liked the main character, but I got horribly confused. I wound myself in knots trying to get through this, then I walked away. I have loved all the other books I've read by this author, I knew what I was getting into, but I just couldn't make it to the end.
    more
  • Phil Costa
    January 1, 1970
    Ambitious and creative novel set in a dystopian future and told through multiple intertwined voices - some actual, some fictional, some where it's not so clear. I wouldn't suggest I understood all of the twists and turns, or unpacked all of the dense cross-references, but the writing is excellent and the multiple turns of the screw are thoroughly enjoyable if you're willing to stick with the complex narrative. Definitely one of those books where you fell you'd get a lot more out of it the second Ambitious and creative novel set in a dystopian future and told through multiple intertwined voices - some actual, some fictional, some where it's not so clear. I wouldn't suggest I understood all of the twists and turns, or unpacked all of the dense cross-references, but the writing is excellent and the multiple turns of the screw are thoroughly enjoyable if you're willing to stick with the complex narrative. Definitely one of those books where you fell you'd get a lot more out of it the second time through.
    more
  • Caroline Mersey
    January 1, 1970
    Every novel by Nick Harkaway is different, and Gnomon (review copy from William Heinemann) is probably his most ambitious book yet. This is a complex, multi-layered book that braids together a series of narratives to tell a story about society and our trust in its underlying structures. Mielikki Neith is the key to piecing all this together. Neith is the foremost Investigator for The System, the all-seeing and all-knowing system that governs society. Part panopticon, part the ultimate in partici Every novel by Nick Harkaway is different, and Gnomon (review copy from William Heinemann) is probably his most ambitious book yet. This is a complex, multi-layered book that braids together a series of narratives to tell a story about society and our trust in its underlying structures. Mielikki Neith is the key to piecing all this together. Neith is the foremost Investigator for The System, the all-seeing and all-knowing system that governs society. Part panopticon, part the ultimate in participatory direct democracy, it promises government by the people and in their best interests. It's the natural evolution of our current world, where we set out the details of our private lives in social media, and monitor our health and bodies with devices like Fitbits. People today are choosing to self-monitor and share that data with large corporations, without ever questioning whether the offered benefits are worth the potential erosion of privacy. Harkaway's System is a society founded on the idea that if one has nothing to hide then one has nothing to fear. And this is a system that works, for the most part. Neith is tasked with investigating Diana Hunter. Hunter is one of the few who has lived a life seeking to opt out of the all-pervasive surveillance of the System. She has lived quietly on the margins of society, until one day her behaviour is flagged as worthy of concern. She is brought in for questioning, which in the case of the Sytem means a full brain scan under laboratory conditions. But Diana Hunter dies under interrogation. Her brain print is given to Neith as part of the investigation, to find out what she was up to and why she died.The scan reveals a series of hyper-real narratives that Hunter has used to block the interrogation by masking her own thoughts and memories. Constantine Kyriakos, the wunderkind banker who escapes a shark attack. Berihun Bekele, a once-feted pop artist who survived Haile Selassie's fall in Ethiopia and is retained by his grand-daughter to design a computer game which bears a startling resemblance to elements of the System. Athenaïs Karthagonensis, a medieval scholar and wise woman mourning her dead son. Although each story is distinct, they are linked both thematically and in points of detail. These are arechetypal stories of gods and monsters, drawing on the oldest myths and stories from human civilisation. Catabasis and apocatastasis are the two recurring themes in Gnomon, featuring in all of the narratives Harkaway sets before us. They are the primal roots of so many of our stories. Catabasis: the journey into darkness on a quest for an object, a loved one, or meaning. Apocatastasis: the ending of a cycle that acts as a reconstitution of the world, often enabling its rebirth in a new direction.This is not a perfect book. It's choppy in parts, and slow to get going. Like one of Bekele's painting series you need to stand back and view the whole by layering its component parts. Harkaway is clearly conscious of the complex task he is putting before the reader, and at times is, if anything, a little too eager to lead the reader by the hand, laying out the trail of breadcrumbs to help understand what he is trying to say. And there could have been a much easier story to tell. Harkaway could have used his setting for a lazy polemic about the surveillance society. But Gnomon reaches for much deeper truths about ourselves, about society, and about the impact of technology upon us all.
    more
  • Jane
    January 1, 1970
    Dystopian Science Fiction with a Confounding EdgeGnomon is both high- and low-concept science fiction at their absolute best. At 700 pages, with a long, long cast of strong – and strange – characters, and a winding, snake-like plot that doubles back upon itself and sniffs along the way the rarefied air of philosophy, religion, and some funky not-too-distant future science, Gnomon is an oft-confusing, confounding work of near – and maybe total – genius.It opens as technology-based dystopian ficti Dystopian Science Fiction with a Confounding EdgeGnomon is both high- and low-concept science fiction at their absolute best. At 700 pages, with a long, long cast of strong – and strange – characters, and a winding, snake-like plot that doubles back upon itself and sniffs along the way the rarefied air of philosophy, religion, and some funky not-too-distant future science, Gnomon is an oft-confusing, confounding work of near – and maybe total – genius.It opens as technology-based dystopian fiction, in a near-future world where crime and disaffection have been brought under control by use of the Witness, a computer programme with added technological extras that make the actions of the population transparent and knowable, and thus predictable. Neith, one of the main narrators, is a police Inspector tasked with investigating the circumstances around the death of refusenik Diana Hunter, who lived a quiet life outside the system, as much as she was able, and who taught local children low-level rebellion and anarchy in a gentle and unalarming way. But as Inspector Neith is about to find out, there is much more to what she sees as an almost utopian society, and a great deal more to Diana Hunter, than meets the eye.In this monster-sized novel, Harkaway ranges freely through deep science and spiritualism, the absurd and the ridiculous, the philosophy of life and death, and takes the reader on some long, wild rides through the outer edges of fantasy.There were times when I wondered whether and how he could pull it all back together, but – with quite some skill – he manages to provide touchstones of reality in Neith, and at times Hunter, no matter how far he strays into the realms of weirdness.It’s a beautiful book and well-deserving of a must-read recommendation. But it’s also a confusing one, with several narrators, and sudden unannounced switches in perspective and point-of-view, which makes it an incredibly demanding read – at many points I thought I was just getting the hang of it and was settling down for a nice comfortable, long home straight, and then the whole world would shift again, and I would find myself as bewildered as ever – a delicious feeling, as Harkaway has great authority in his writing, so that the confusion, and wretched feeling of being far out to sea, becomes a readerly rollercoaster of thrills and knife-edge tension that gripped me from first page to last.Harkaway has pulled off an incredible feat of literary engineering, drawing together impossibly diverse threads of knowledge and narratives to an ultimate point that left me stunned and feeling somehow enlightened. Gnomon is the first book in a very long time of which I can say: this book changed my outlook on life.I received a review copy of this book from the publisher
    more
  • Vegantrav
    January 1, 1970
    Nick Harkaway is a literary genius, and we wander through his remarkably twisted (in both senses) mind as he takes us down a labyrinthine rabbit hole to rival any and all rabbit holes. Gnomon is one of the most ambitious and imaginative books I have ever read. It is its own unique self while hearkening to (and perhaps paying homage to) Jorge Luis Borges's short stories, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.I could no mor Nick Harkaway is a literary genius, and we wander through his remarkably twisted (in both senses) mind as he takes us down a labyrinthine rabbit hole to rival any and all rabbit holes. Gnomon is one of the most ambitious and imaginative books I have ever read. It is its own unique self while hearkening to (and perhaps paying homage to) Jorge Luis Borges's short stories, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.I could no more summarize Gnomon than I could the Bible. This is a dense novel--both literally (in terms of its physical size and weight) and intellectually. It is not an easy read, and if you find yourself lost in the journey that it takes you on, don't be surprised, for what else would you expect from diving into the whirlwind?As I was starting to write this paragraph, I intended to give my justification for rating this novel four stars instead of five. I was going to say that this was a novel that I very much appreciated but did not thoroughly enjoy, and then I immediately went and changed my rating from four to five stars because, although it was a difficult read and not always enjoyable, to rate it only four stars would be an injustice. Yes, it is a long read and is often arduous. You can't just breeze through it like some airport thriller or the sci-fi flavor of the month. This novel is not for the faint of heart. Gnomon is brilliant. It left me breathless. I have a feeling that Gnomon, like Danielewski's House of Leaves, will be one that, years from now, will continue to stand out in my memory for the sheer audacity of the author's vision and the intricate precision of its execution.I often finish a novel and remark to myself how much I enjoyed it. It's not difficult to write interesting and enjoyable novels. But rarely do I finish a novel and say to myself, "That was impressive." Gnomon is impressive.
    more
  • Michael Cayley
    January 1, 1970
    Frankly I found this dystopian novel boring. The prose was too convoluted, with lots of recondite or invented words; there was too much information dumping - what appeared to me like mini-essays giving background information; and the whole book seemed overlong and slow-moving. I am sure it is very clever, but that is not enough to keep the reader’s attention.With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me have an ARC.
    more
  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    I had expected a challenge from the get-go. What resulted was an all-out prize fight, yours truly vs. several opponents: an Inspector, a shark, the number 4, my dictionary. Most of all I battled with the author, Nick Harkaway, as I wandered my way through his maniacal, brilliant mind, fully on display throughout the 700+ pages of his sprawling, frustrating epic Gnomon.First off, the novel is impossible to define in that it’s my belief it’ll conjure different opinions and emotions from each reade I had expected a challenge from the get-go. What resulted was an all-out prize fight, yours truly vs. several opponents: an Inspector, a shark, the number 4, my dictionary. Most of all I battled with the author, Nick Harkaway, as I wandered my way through his maniacal, brilliant mind, fully on display throughout the 700+ pages of his sprawling, frustrating epic Gnomon.First off, the novel is impossible to define in that it’s my belief it’ll conjure different opinions and emotions from each reader. It’s a deeply layered read, more so than just about anything I’ve read; it’s both a blessing a curse. I imagine many readers will give up and frankly I wouldn’t blame them. Gnomon is verbose, dense, philosophical, funny. In fact it’s a lot of things. One thing it is not is easy. I doubt it was meant to be.That said I’ll do my best to summate the plot, or at least how I interpreted it. Gnomon is set in a futuristic London, where humans are under constant surveillance, their every breath, step, action, etc. monitored. Harkaway presents this future state as something of a Utopia; ubiquitous transparency has resulted in mankind’s safest, soundest era. Yet when Diana Hunter, a suspected heretic to constant observation, dies whilst being interrogated, it marks the first time in which a citizen has perished under government custody. It’s a significant if not unfathomable loss; the “System” simply does not make mistakes, was in fact designed to do quite the opposite. Enter Inspector Mielikki Neith to clean up the mess. Sadly for her - and probably for a lot of folks who chose to join Neith on her journey - the mess was just getting started. The inspector is given access to Hunter’s subconscious, which had been recorded throughout her interrogation. In search of clues as to why she’d passed Neith instead finds that Hunter wasn’t just Hunter, she was a variety of characters living in her psyche: an excessive Athens-based banker who manages to bankrupt the world’s economy thanks in part to his run-in with a shark; St Augustine’s brilliant alchemist mistress, bestower of miracles; an artist grandfather turned video game designer who helps his granddaughter to create a simulated RPG similar to that of the government’s surveillance tool; and a murderous sociopath. Neith discovers that each narrative, while on the surface disconnected, are linked by way of a code of which she tries to decipher. Still with me? If you’re not, you’re not alone. Even my attention - one which I pride in being razor sharp - wavered or got lost amidst the many, many details. Harkaway has plenty of astonishing moments (I especially enjoyed the uber meta virtual reality created by Berkele, the aforementioned grandpa), which isn’t surprising given the heft and ambition of this novel. And yet he also has plenty of superfluous ones, another unsurprising feat. I’m certain I missed a lot of key developments or plot points; sadly I’m not interested enough (nor have the time or energy) to go back and try to pinpoint what I’d overlooked.The verdict? It’s tough to say, just as Gnomon is tough to define let alone read. Harkaway is undoubtedly a gifted writer and storyteller; I just fear he became his own worst enemy in leading readers into a series of rabbit holes with seemingly no end. There are rewarding aspects to Gnomon, that much is certain. There are just as many confounding ones, too. Proceed with caution, attention, and plenty of time.
    more
  • Penelope
    January 1, 1970
    Like all of Mr Harkaway's books, this more than any of them, requires you to trust that the author will carry you through, the at times, incomprehensible story, and reward your diligence and perseverance with a denouement that will quite possibly shake your world view. Gnomon does just that! It's not the easiest of books to read, and Angelmaker still remains my favourite book by this author, but the time and effort taken to read it is not wasted. At the very least you will learn a 100 new words Like all of Mr Harkaway's books, this more than any of them, requires you to trust that the author will carry you through, the at times, incomprehensible story, and reward your diligence and perseverance with a denouement that will quite possibly shake your world view. Gnomon does just that! It's not the easiest of books to read, and Angelmaker still remains my favourite book by this author, but the time and effort taken to read it is not wasted. At the very least you will learn a 100 new words that will expand your vocabulary in directions you didn't know it needed to grow and at the most this novel will worm it's way into your cerebral cortex and find a home amongst your grey matter to leave you a slightly different person to the one you were before you read it. I whole heartedly recommend Nick Harkaway as an author to read but be prepared to be bemused, befuddled, discomposed and discombobulated but also educated, highly entertained, extremely enlightened and utterly delighted.
    more
  • John Glover
    January 1, 1970
    Ok, I will make this a very short review. I don’t believe in giving bad reviews unless the book is awful. This is not a bad book, but it is a long book.The story seemed interesting - I love dystopian fiction, but I found the story bewildering. It is the first novel that I have read by Nick Harkaway. For me this was a very slow read and it felt like the author was using twenty-five words when five would have done. Be prepared to concentrate!I did however struggle on and complete the book after bo Ok, I will make this a very short review. I don’t believe in giving bad reviews unless the book is awful. This is not a bad book, but it is a long book.The story seemed interesting - I love dystopian fiction, but I found the story bewildering. It is the first novel that I have read by Nick Harkaway. For me this was a very slow read and it felt like the author was using twenty-five words when five would have done. Be prepared to concentrate!I did however struggle on and complete the book after bookmarking it and going back to it half a dozen times. It just wasn't for me Lastly many thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy this book in return for a fair and honest review.
    more
  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I know this book would appeal to many people, however, I cannot review on the entire book as I struggled to finish it. I was extremely interested in reading this book, however upon starting it I found after a while I did not want to carry on, I kept picking it back up but I found this story to be overly long and I found it very difficult to hold my attention to this book and for this reason I was not emotionally invested in this st I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I know this book would appeal to many people, however, I cannot review on the entire book as I struggled to finish it. I was extremely interested in reading this book, however upon starting it I found after a while I did not want to carry on, I kept picking it back up but I found this story to be overly long and I found it very difficult to hold my attention to this book and for this reason I was not emotionally invested in this story which I think overall resulted in me resigning to complete this book.
    more
  • Emma Victory
    January 1, 1970
    I think it's a work of art and we are lucky to have him. The times when I enjoyed reading it the most were the longest uninterrupted stretches of reading I had. When I had to stop and start it wasn't so easy to experience the story. It's an immersive experience.
    more
  • Ben Babcock
    January 1, 1970
    Yes, Gnomon is a behemoth of a book, one I am glad I saved for the beginning of March Break. Even then it took me several days to get through it. Nick Harkaway’s story is intricately layered and nested, and while I wasn’t sure about it at first, the more time I spent with it, the more I came to appreciate and enjoy its construction. Gnomon is a lot of things, and a simple summary won’t really cut it. Let me take you on my personal journey of understanding this book. If you read it, your journey Yes, Gnomon is a behemoth of a book, one I am glad I saved for the beginning of March Break. Even then it took me several days to get through it. Nick Harkaway’s story is intricately layered and nested, and while I wasn’t sure about it at first, the more time I spent with it, the more I came to appreciate and enjoy its construction. Gnomon is a lot of things, and a simple summary won’t really cut it. Let me take you on my personal journey of understanding this book. If you read it, your journey might be quite different, and your mileage, of course, may vary.We start with what seems like a mystery set in a near-future where the UK is even more of a surveillance society than it currently is. The System is an omnipresent AI built from a collection of self-correcting algorithms. The Witness is the System’s data collection/feedback component, i.e., it monitors what people do, investigates when crimes happen, and provides reports. Mielikki Neith is one of the human cogs in this machine. As an Inspector for the Witness, she goes anywhere that is necessary to collect information, process it with her meatbrain, and then integrate it with whatever else the Witness has gleaned from other sources. Neither the Witness nor the System are conscious, in any meaningful sense, though indeed one of the larger questions Harkaway would like us to ruminate upon is why we are so certain we’re conscious and the System is not.So at first, the book seems like a story about mysteries in a surveillance state, and therefore, a polemic against such a dystopia. Neith is a believer in the System, yet signs point to someone tampering with what is supposedly tamper-proof. Had Harkaway stopped here, I think he could have a perfectly good sci-fi thriller on his hands. But, of course, he didn’t. Neith has to unpack the memories recorded during the interrogation of Diana Hunter. Hunter’s death during this interrogation is the central mystery. But the memories are really stories, stories of the lives of people who might never have existed. Are they merely Hunter’s attempts to resist interrogation by neural probe? Or is there more going on here?Harkaway seems to be asking questions not just about how willing we are to tolerate invasive surveillance and a dearth of privacy but also how we feel about technology in general. This is my favourite quotation:… it had almost nothing to do with computers, the modernity I was trying to understand. Computers were the bones, but imagination, ambition and possibility were the blood. These kids, they simply did not accept that the world as it is has any special gravity, any hold upon us. If something was wrong, if it was bad, then that something was to be fixed, not endured. Where my generation reached for philosophy and the virtue of suffering, they reached instead for science and technology and they actually did something about the beggar in the street, the woman in the wheelchair. They got on with it. It wasn’t that they had no sense of spirit or depth. Rather they reserved it for the truly wondrous, and for everything else they made tools.The stories that Harkaway tells through Hunter’s counter-interrogation narratives are all about the ways in which we confront and use (or abuse) technology. The quotation above is from Berihun Bekele’s narrative. He is an old man learning new technology so he can apply his art to his granddaughter’s immersive video game project. That first sentence in particular gets at me, because I think it hits a truth easily overlooked by a lot of superficial analysis of technological progress these days. We talk about older generations having a hard time adapting to “computers”, but that isn’t the point. If anything, computers are old news. Computers are everywhere, and they are nowhere, in the sense that we almost don’t see them if we don’t look hard enough.We might not have a comprehensive AI System yet, but in many ways we are close. I think a lot of us—of many generations—have this mental picture of the world as somehow being like it was in 1900, just with high speed Internet and digital cameras. Except it is nothing like that, because computers have literally infiltrated and changed every aspect of our lives. Modernity isn’t about computers. Modernity is about the thinking in a society where computers run things in the background.This theme resounds throughout all of the narratives. Gnomon reminds me, in structure and style, of many things— Cloud Atlas , William Gibson, but above all else, Umberto Eco. This has the playfully meta-fictional awareness of Foucault’s Pendulum and the deeply unsettling mystery vibe of The Name of the Rose . Like Eco, Harkaway likes to play with language and semiotics, as evidenced by the way the title word weaves throughout the narratives, and certain phrases or motifs, like Fire Judges, Firespine, etc., repeat in different constructs. Like Eco, Harkaway seems to have consumed this vast gestalt of human history and philosophy and synthesized it into a fascinating, thought-provoking work of art.Honestly, the ending was slightly disappointing. As the narratives collapse inwards on one another and we return to “reality”, Harkaway seems to shift the focus of the main story to the question of whether or not the System is a Good Thing and who, if anyone, should have the right to adjust it. In some ways, this seems to simplify the book more than I would like. Still, I respect the questions he is asking here. While he largely sidesteps the “all-powerful AI monitors and corrects the behaviour of society but, shock, turns out to be evil” trope, he does succeed in pointing out that any AI-powered attempt at demarchy is probably futile in the sense that, at some level, humans are going to screw it up. The only way to prevent that is to wrest power completely from humans (and then it isn’t really demarchy at all any more).If you are a looking for a straightforward narrative here, whether it’s science fiction or mystery or crime or whatever, you will be disappointed. Gnomon demands that you sink your teeth into it, think on it, scrutinize it carefully. Do so, and you will hopefully be rewarded with a very thoughtful story. But if that isn’t your thing, or you’re not in the mood, I suspect you will be left quite frustrated, confused, or just bored. Gnomon lacks the humorous absurdism of Harkaway’s first two novels, The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker , which were probably my favourites for that reason. It shares a little more in common with Tigerman in the way Harkaway pulls from pop culture ideas and spins them out into serious social considerations. If anything, this novel confirms that every book Harkaway produces is going to be new and very different, an evolution, each one building on the last. While I wouldn’t call this my favourite, it was definitely an excellent vacation read, so fulfilling in its scope and themes.
    more
  • Mary Thompson
    January 1, 1970
    Highly recommended. It's long and complex and there were a lot of words I had to look up. This is a book that will make you smarter. Also, it was entertaining and engaging. All the characters were interesting, the world building was excellent, and it all came together at the end. It gave me a lot to think about. Do yourself a favor, give yourself a few months, and go with it.
    more
  • Jemima Pett
    January 1, 1970
    I think it fair to warn you that Gnomon is a little like War and Peace meets Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Inception. I read War and Peace on a beach holiday. Once I realised the trick was to skip the boring treatises on the nature of war, I found the story excellent. If you take Gnomon to a place where you will not be disturbed, skip the bits that are too dense for your particular interests in life, you'll find a really good story in there. But the more interesting bits (as opposed to the story I think it fair to warn you that Gnomon is a little like War and Peace meets Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Inception. I read War and Peace on a beach holiday. Once I realised the trick was to skip the boring treatises on the nature of war, I found the story excellent. If you take Gnomon to a place where you will not be disturbed, skip the bits that are too dense for your particular interests in life, you'll find a really good story in there. But the more interesting bits (as opposed to the story) depend on what your frames of reference are, and how much you enjoy literary discourse in your novels.Gnomon is set in a contemporary futuristic world where deliberative governance has developed so far that everybody is a democrat and the System watches to ensure that everyone does their civic duty. Everyone is civil to one another, the system will give you hints on the behaviour, interests, compatibility and most other things you want to know about someone before you meet them, and everyone lives in harmony, more or less.Of course, there are always people who disagree with the System, yet decide not to leave and find a system of governance that suits their beliefs better. Like Diana Hunter. The name rang all sorts of bells with me, and I wondered all the way through the book whether...The trouble is, Diana Hunter died during a routine investigation. The Interviewer, who has a somewhat Finnish name, is called in to ensure the case is fully reviewed and any wrong-doing sorted out. The means the Interviewer has at her disposal is to have a sort of mind-meld with the now deceased Diana Hunter's brain.The first episode seems to be consistent with Diana Hunter. The second is not, and confused the hell out of me. The third likewise until I started to understand what was going on. That's when I started to use the trick of reading in depth the bits I found interesting—like the methodology for bringing down the global stock exchange—and skimming the ones I didn't. The author uses very long-winded ways to get through these scenes. It's partly phraseology, rhetoric, and looping. Philosophers may enjoy it. It may also be trying to mimic absurdities in the dream state. I should have noticed the bit in the blurb saying the author took three years to complete it. That may be why some sections seem different in voice from others. The disjointedness might be deliberate. Then again, they may have been written at different times and the author has moved on. The range of subjects covered is huge, though.Most of the other reviewers I've seen on Goodreads agree on a love-hate relationship with this book. There was a critical moment, at 20% in, when I thought of abandoning it. Fortunately the author finished that episode just in time, and after that, I did want to read to the end—selectively. Do you fancy War and Peace in a weird contemporary fantasy suspense? I recommend it when you have plenty of time to devote to it. If not, well, a gnomon is something sticking out of the plane it's set in, so be warned.
    more
  • Anna
    January 1, 1970
    I adored The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway’s first novel. Angelmaker was by comparison a bit of a let-down, then Tigerman didn’t have a weird enough concept to appeal so I haven't read it. ‘Gnomon’, however, is a definite return to form and I found it very satisfying. (view spoiler)[That said, I realise now that the final twist is very similar to that in The Gone-Away World. It’s a brilliant twist, though, and used differently enough that I still loved it. (hide spoiler)] My reading experience I adored The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway’s first novel. Angelmaker was by comparison a bit of a let-down, then Tigerman didn’t have a weird enough concept to appeal so I haven't read it. ‘Gnomon’, however, is a definite return to form and I found it very satisfying. (view spoiler)[That said, I realise now that the final twist is very similar to that in The Gone-Away World. It’s a brilliant twist, though, and used differently enough that I still loved it. (hide spoiler)] My reading experience was pretty intense, as I have to take it back to the library tomorrow so read the second half in one go this evening. I recommend that, actually. ‘Gnomon’ is a long, dense novel of fracturing and overlapping realities. It reminded me of a much more verbose version of Inception, which happens to be one of my favourite films of all time (on conceptual and aesthetic grounds). The novel begins in an arguably dystopian near future, managed by a combination of a benevolent big data crunching computer system and online direct democracy. Mielikki Neith is an Inspector on this system’s behalf, investigating a death during a supposedly routine interrogation. Re-playing recordings of this interrogation, she finds a web of mysterious repeating themes and signs. The reader accompanies her as she attempts to understand what the hell is going on.‘Gnomon’ gives you a lot to get your teeth into. References to Brexit, Greece’s resurgent neo-Fascism, Roman mysticism, and the amorality of the super-wealthy, among other things. There’s a running theme of the power of books, and stories in general, to shape our minds. Harkaway loves to drop five or so rhetorical questions into the narrative, keeping the reader off-balance. Questions of identity, free will, and mortality are repeatedly raised and played with. (view spoiler)[The narrative doesn't have much to say about the transition away from an online massive multiplayer democracy at the end, though, which is rather interesting in itself. (hide spoiler)] The characters have memorable voices and the world-building is deeply involving. The combination of the dreamlike and visceral is nicely judged, riveting yet ambiguous enough to keep you guessing. Ideas and images fragment, drift away, reform, and recur. Worlds collide and identities collapse. It’s a very enjoyable ride. While I could feel familiar echoes from other fiction, the whole was re-imagined and re-combined into an original new pattern. I don’t want to spoil anything by going into further details. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed 'Gnomon' very much, on both conceptual and aesthetic grounds, and expect it to stay in my mind for a good while.
    more
Write a review