Imagine, if you will, a Pynchonesque mega-novel that periodically calls to mind the films Inception and The Matrix, Raymond Chandler’s quest romances about detective Philip Marlowe, John le Carré’s intricately recursive Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the dizzying science fiction of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, Iain Pears’s hypertextual Arcadia and Haruki Murakami’s alternate world IQ84 and even this week’s Washington Post story about China’s push for 'total surveillance' ... Harkaway divides up and parcels out these four narratives over the course of Neith’s investigation. Each, I should stress, is genre-novel exciting just on its own ... Despite the richness of its invention and virtuosic tricksiness, Gnomon is probably a bit too long. Still, it means to dazzle and it does, while also raising serious questions about identity, privacy, human rights and the just society.
Gnomon is a big, ambitious book that sometimes trips over its own bigness, but reads like some kind of game of literary telephone played by Philip K. Dick, Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gibson ... Harkaway lays this out beautifully, mysteriously and mischeviously. After reading the first 50-some pages of Gnomon, I was fully on board ... The parts of Gnomon I liked best were the bits about books, videogames and the future—because those are my things, my own personal passions. But it's a big book, a digressive book, and it contains so much that it sometimes feels (like Diana Hunter's house is supposed to feel) like a museum of curiosities trapped between two covers and shaken vigorously.
To call Gnomon a work of genius is not entirely a compliment. Nick Harkaway’s epic, unwieldy, unpredictable new novel is outwardly brainy and pridefully digressive, and the distance it projects from its reader feels excruciatingly deliberate ... These mini-stories range from poignant to dull, which again, seems almost beside the point in the grander scheme of the novel ... That there’s so much to recommend here, so much to grapple with and admire, is at its root a product of that very pure mission: to both be literary and endear readers to the literary. So it’s all the more disappointing that Harkaway can’t quite execute that mission — can’t quite match his herculean ambitions ... The reading experience sours as Harkaway’s writing stays maddeningly expository...For all that Harkaway comments on the vitality of books and storytelling, he too often strays from their most basic pleasures.
With every new novel, Harkaway manages to further explode the idea of boundaries as useful tools to contain our understanding of character, genre, and story ... These myth-laden stories all connect to Neith’s investigation, but as Harkaway takes us deeper and deeper into the wormholes of his imagination, the fabric of those connections becomes less graspable ... We don’t understand, either; we don’t even understand if our lack of understanding is a flaw in the novel or in ourselves. We recognize that Harkaway is delivering a ferociously powerful polemic about the subversive nature of deep-diving electronic surveillance—its ability to rob individuals of their individuality—but far, far beyond that, we also recognize the dazzling complexity and pyrotechnical brilliance of the world he has created here. Give Gnomon a galaxy of stars for its sheer audacity.
A novel can be awfully long without being long-winded. Gnomon, however, reads like the first draft of what might have been a tighter 400-page book rather than a rambling 700-pager. Progress is routinely halted by sketchy Wikipedia-style exposition-dumps about tidal flow or behavioural economics, or a character asking herself a whole page or two of questions about what just happened, or vague disquisitions on the meaning of identity. Things are repeatedly explained, unnecessarily ... the novel wants very much to be propelled by dramatic tension and a sense of jeopardy, but there can’t really be any when a plot proceeds as this one does, essentially from one deus ex machina to the next. Pretty much anything can happen, so you can’t make educated guesses about what might occur next ... Of all the characters, though, the most interesting is actually the least human, and the one after whom the novel is named...He is angry and funny, and a really interesting effort at portraying a consciousness that at some level is irreducibly alien. As the novel itself rather too insistently hopes, it is Gnomon’s voice you remember most clearly after the end.
Nick Harkaway’s kaleidoscopic, mind-bending novel, pulls the reader into a mental vortex and never lets go ... Reading Gnomon is a bit like driving a car at high speed—at some point, you’re just trying to hold on. The narrative barrels forward, building feverishly with the multilayered dimensions of Hunter’s mind. Neith serves as the reader’s safe harbor, a calm and determined truth-seeker who balances the book’s many perspectives ... With Gnomon, he has landed in the sci-fi pantheon. Glimpses of William Gibson, Ridley Scott and Alan Moore abound, but in the end, Harkaway has found a deep, sometimes terrifying future-scape all for himself, one that surprises and challenges right to the last firing synapse.
Constructed like Cloud Atlas — and at least as long — its vast canvas takes in tales of inexplicable ancient history, our appallingly prescient present and, fittingly, the far flung future, all of which orbit Gnomon’s central Orwellian thread like spy satellites on an imminent collision course ... Harkaway delivers these 'fleshed, persuasive histories' as novella-length digressions, interrupted on occasion ostensibly so that Neith can come up for air — and if I’m to find a fault in Gnomon, it’s that these sections frequently feel like cheat sheets. There’s something ingenious going on here, you see ... a monolithic novel are of critical import to the enraptured reader, and picking out the pivotal parts — particularly the recurring themes and memes — is a puzzle that proves a pleasure to pursue ... In its cautionary characters and in its careful construction, in its incredible creativity and in its conversely very credible commentary, Harkaway’s latest is likely his greatest.
Gnonom is a novel that deals passionately with human rights, privacy, political corruption, and the excess of capitalism. In other words, it’s a political novel. These days it’s almost a crime to classify a science fiction novel as having an agenda, but Gnomon wears its ideology of human freedom and liberty on its sleeve. As we weave between the different narratives, always coming back to Inspector Neith’s journey down the rabbit hole, we are asked to question and consider the double-edged sword of technology: how it provides opportunity but also has the potential to remove the possibility of choice; how it can make us more compassionate and also strip away our humanity. These are the questions of today, of right now, and reading them in such an ambitious context, where the ideas and concepts come thick and fast, makes for a profound and exciting experience.
...Harkaway's new novel Gnomon has both its feet planted firmly in the fantastic – this is a big, bristlingly detailed science fiction fantasia whose plots thread and fold back upon themselves and communicate with each other like computer algorithms, if algorithms intended to mystify and captivate instead of misunderstand and hamper ... Gnomon exults in its complications and imbrications; this is exactly the kind of hyperstimulated ambitious tome that can so often buck its authors off somewhere in the second act, and yet Harkaway keeps the whole thing under perfect – and often maddening – control right to the shock revelations of the final pages ...is very much worth the effort: in its fierce intelligence and surprisingly gentle humanity, it's easily Harkaway's most impressive work to date.
Beguiling, multilayered, sprawling novel that blends elements of Philip K. Dick–tinged sci-fi, mystery, politics, and literary fiction in a most satisfying brew ... Fans of Pynchon and William Gibson alike will devour this smart, expertly written bit of literary subversion.
...[an] inventive, mind-bending, and mesmerizing novel ... Literary spelunkers in particular will enjoy decrypting his social science fiction, rich in literary, historical, and pop culture references and laced with humor and linguistic sleight of hand.