Monday, September 22, 2008

New This Month: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway’s debut novel gets one wanting to talk about apples and how they don’t fall far from the tree. And yet...

Harkaway’s father, master thriller writer John le Carré, is a well-loved author. Based on Harkaway’s brilliant first outing, it seems junior is just as likely to earn a wide following, though with a deeply different sort of book.

The Gone-Away World (Knopf) leaves the reader gasping for both adjectives and description. It’s a powerful and accomplished first novel that weaves elements of romance, mystery, SF/F and -- yes -- thriller together in a way that leaves no doubt that the master storyteller gene really is something that can be passed along. Like many media outlets, Culture Vulture struggled valiantly for comparisons in a preamble to an interview with the young author:
Hailed variously as the heir to the Kurt Vonnegut legacy, a Joseph Heller for the 21st century, and a Thomas Pynchon for the post-nuclear era, Nick Harkaway has garnered enough accolades since his recent authorial debut to turn a creative-writing MFA grad green with envy (if they weren’t already, thanks to his legacy: He’s the son of author John Le Carre). Harkaway’s first book, The Gone-Away World, is a gripping, satirical, postapocalyptic war epic populated with mimes, ninjas, bureaucrats, chimera, and gun-toting nerds.
And even CV’s first question -- and Harkaway’s first answer -- show this grappling for comparison:
Gone-Away World has been compared to everything from Dickens to Rushdie to Terry Pratchett. Have you heard any parallels that you feel are really off the mark?

The Observer said it was “Thackeray on acid,” and that caught me off balance. But the Vonnegut comparison makes me extremely happy.
So, OK: having read the book, I’ll play: For me, Harkaway’s style puts me a bit in mind of the very best of Douglas Adams for the pure skittering, off-the-wall humor and of Douglas Coupland’s keen eye for cultural detail and well-developed sense of the ridiculous.

Actually, scratch that. As the son of one of the top-selling authors in the world, one can imagine Harkaway has had it to here with comparisons. And, truly, The Gone-Away World demonstrates a clear voice and sharp vision. And, whatever else, with everyone scratching about for all these wonderful comparisons (Pynchon, Vonnegut, Rushdie and Dickens, for crying out loud!) it’s clear, boyfriend can write. North American readers just have to fight their way beyond the irritating shocking pink of the cover (the design of the UK edition -- published this past June -- is much more sedate). But, truly: with all this author has to offer, it won’t be a problem for long.


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