Books of 2013, #51: The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World is, hands down, one of the most inventive and well-written and occasionally hilarious books this year — absolutely top ten if not top five. It’s a real gem of a book, full of absolutely hysterical turns of phrase (and bursts of satire worthy of Heller), but not at the expense of telling a pretty amazing story. Harkaway has built a hell of a world here — one that, at first, you don’t even recognize as being based on our own. I’ll absolutely be sampling more of his work in 2014.

To explain much of the plot is, I fear, to rob you of the experience of working it out on your own, so I’ll say little in that regard. It’s not a puzzle book, but it takes you a few chapters to get the gist, and the journey is worth it, so my advice it that you don’t even read the Wikipedia page.

What I can tell you about, again, is Harkaway’s glorious language. Here’s a few samples, just to taste:

Old Man Lubitsch holds up a single gloved hand, a sinner lost to apiarism, requesting indulgence.


[T]he tree of nonsense is watered with error, and from its branches swing the pumpkins of disaster.


We cruise along the main street, and it’s reasonably clear how the good folk here spend their time. The female half dances nude for the male half (with a statistical variation to account for less common orientations) or wrestles in a variety of convenience foodstuffs or performs in cinematic fantasies with simple, pithy titles. Some of the inhabitants engage in unmediated physical commerce of an ancient and simple sort. The porn shops of Matchingham observe a strict progression of obscenity, beginning with an almost fluffy eroticorium (catering either to tourists, if Matchingham ever had such a thing, or to the two or three women here who think of sex as a leisure activity), and moving from the modest HARD CORE! to the more self-aggrandising X-TREME HARD CORE!!! to various delights identified by jargon at least as impenetrable as Isaac Newton’s Second Law. The pale, as it were, beyond which one may not go, is a small shop with a faded handwritten sign and quite a lot of dust in the window. It stands just past an emporium sporting a neon outline of a woman swallowing the head of a Sucuri anaconda (the distinctive markings are surprisingly well rendered in lilac tubing) while being beaten by attendant cowboys with what appear to be starfish. It seems that the people of Matchingham have attained, with their limited resources, a jaded expertise in perversity I had assumed was found only in wealthy university towns. Even for this population of mining-town Caligulas, the little boutique to the left has gone too far with its simple sign: EXPLICIT EROTIC MOVIES—WITH A STORY!!!!

and, my personal favorite:

Unfucking is considerably more difficult than fucking. The Second Law of ther-mo-dynamics—because if you were thinking even for a minute that you are better educated than I am and therefore superior, Bumhole, you were mistaken—does not look with kindness upon unfucking. The level of fuckedness in a system always increases unless something acts on it from the outside. Worse yet, Bumhole, you do not own your own fuckedness. You do not appreciate the fullness of the fucking which has happened to you.

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