A sprawling science fiction novel set in a futuristic London where all of society is monitored and controlled by a seemingly beneficial AI called 'The System.' When a suspected dissident dies in government custody, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong.
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.