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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

01/09/2009. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy The Gone-Away World in the USA - or Buy The Gone-Away World in the UK

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pub: Alfred A. Knopf. 468 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-307-26886-0.

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Our memories make what we are and who we might be. A bundle of loosely tied strings inside a lump of blancmange fired up with electricity. The brain is a good example of something appearing totally unlike its real self. The dream factory of the brain is our key to not only to writing books but reading them.

Another thing that can define us is our relationships. Family and friends and how we appear to others is part of our make-up.

This novel looks at personality, memory and a harsh reality of a war that never does go away. What does go away is normal life and expectations and what we are left with is still what people cling to, relationships and friendship to gain certainty in an uncertain world. Love and romance amidst the bombs and the blood.

This book condemns war made by men who become part of the machinery and is also a story of love, hope friendship and some very strange events.

Someone invents a bomb that they think will stop the other side ever retaliating. It used to be called mutually assured destruction or MAD for short. It was the unthinkable but in this scenario it happens and the world as we know it is changed forever. The story of the unnamed protagonist and his childhood friend Gonzo is what happens before, during and after the war.

Our hero describes his induction into love and war. His mentor is the mysterious Master Wu, a cross between the film 'Karate Kid's Miyagi and Grasshopper's trainer from the TV series 'Kung Fu'. Elizabeth, the daughter of his headmistress, trains alongside him although their paths diverge when he goes to college. His friend Gonzo is always there, too, although they have different strengths. Discredited by his actions in college, he is virtually unemployable until picked up by the service to help with the actions in a little war.

The idea of the little war is to prevent the Big One but of course it doesn't and eventually hell does break loose. Our hero finds love amongst the debris but the Gone Away Bombs unleashed by both sides cause fractures in reality. Only the pipeline dispensing FOX created by the mysterious Jorgmund Corporation can prevent the incursion into the real world by the nightmares in the outland. One night, as his team battle to put out a fire on the pipeline, a devastating event takes him into a totally new experience.

I found this a moving story which uses the techniques of genre fiction to credibly pick away at our assurances. It makes some interesting observations on the individual's experience and it is combined with a great narrative drive. The imagery is convincing and the characters embrace the human norms enough to allow the reader into the emotional landscape Harkaway creates. I felt for these people and God forbid it is ever adapted into an action movie that misses all the subtle points.

I do hope Nick Harkaway writes another novel but this is one is a brilliant debut.

Sue Davies

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