2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 0 books toward her goal of 200 books.

Book Review: Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

As others have noted, this is an unusual book. I didn’t like it, then I did, then I didn’t again, then I just found it wearying to keep flip-flopping back and forth… It felt rather uneven in engagement-level and pacing, and even the writing style felt a bit slap-dash and unusually variable.

I was intrigued by the idea when I first read the description but was also worried, based on other reviews and comparisons, that it would be too conceptual to hold me. At times it was a marvelous piece of storytelling – unusual and intriguing and compelling. Then it would switch, on a dime, and feel unnecessarily convoluted and dense, like the author was trying to impress readers with his art rather than tell a story. I like my stories to be at least a little linear. I enjoy working out a story/puzzle, but only if there’s a sense that you are getting somewhere – this felt like a mobius strip, all twists and curves without a top or bottom or end in sight…

I don’t normally give you the blurb, but this time I feel like I should since I don’t have ANY idea how to explain what intrigued – and lost – me in equal measure about this book. So here goes:

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.

It sounds cool, right? But you can also see where/how I was a little nervous about the conceptualization… At the end of the day, I just couldn’t engage with the main character and couldn’t get into the flow of the text. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but there were a number of words I had to look up early on. Normally I enjoy this, I love learning new words. But these felt gratuitous, again like the author was trying to impress rather than trying to pick the word that suited the story the best. I’ve seen people compare it to Philip K Dick; it made me think vaguely of Vonnegut and House of Leaves – which are also written in a style that many love and rave about but that I have just never been able to appreciate… It is also entirely possible that I’m not in the right head-space for this one – it may need a more active reader than I could be during the holidays, or may have required a longer reading period each time I picked it up in order to stay engaged (I was lucky to read it in 15 minute spurts, given everything going on lately). Regardless, this one wasn’t a hit with me…

My review copy was provided as part of the Penguin First to Read program.

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