The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway – Review

I made a gamble when I picked up this book. I found it, signed, hardback and dustcover-less, in a local charity shop. Drawn to the cover and the first line, I traded two of my pounds for the chance to find out if my first impressions were of any accuracy.

Ninety pages in and I am still not sure. I can see that there is a story that is exactly my kind of story, however, I am struggling to stay engaged enough to find out.

The story begins with a highly interesting dystopian/fantasy future setting, that does not reveal its desert setting until about nine pages in. Aside from the author’s adoration for the word ‘and’, it was proving to be a better than average scenario, somewhere between Discworld and the Wild West. When all of a chapter change, you are flung back in time to before the world went doolally, to follow the main two characters back story. All of their back story.

It became overrun with story after story, moving along the time line from when the character doing the narrating meets the character that he perceives to be be the main character. Many characters and mini stories are woven into the narrative, the majority of which, whilst feeling very enriching, seem rather irrelevant to whatever the main storyline might be.

Sixty pages on from the initial fast paced, high octane chapter, we are learning how narrative guy chose which university to go to, with no movement back to where it left off in sight.

Every single sentence paragraph shape is either smart or clever (the smart being genuinely intellectual and the clever being one form of wit or humour or another). In small does or paced apart, such a style of writing can be interesting and wind up leaving the reader feeling smarter. However (apologies for the overuse of ‘however’), when the entire page is either trying to either make you think or exhale a little more air through your nose than usual, then reading begins to become a chore. Focus wains and you find yourself having to reread a section in case you missed a terribly funny reference or a very learned and appropriate analogy.

Rather confusingly, the whole book is in a present tense narrative, which would be fine, except for the fact that it continues in the present tense whilst detailing the past. Unless, by some random editing oversight, one chapter from much further on in the time got copied and pasted to the front. It feels as though it were tacked onto the front to give the readers something to hold on to whilst they drudge through the, admittedly interesting yet much less thrilling, backstory.

In ‘The Gone-Away World’, I can see the potential for a great story, which I will, at some point, be able to battle through. All I need is a week completely free of outside distraction so that I can give each and every sentence the focus that they require in order to not miss anything that may or may not be crucial.

I will revisit and fully review this book at a later date, hopefully I will, one day, discover whether ot not it will be worth it.

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