Library Journal Review
This latest from Harkaway (Tigerman) is set in a near-future Britain managed by the Witness, a pervasive surveillance system connected to instant plebiscites that has taken the place of government. This system is perceived as the ultimate rule of the people by the people, but, disturbingly, the Witness can see into your mind. When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies under interrogation, investigator Meilikki Neith mentally ingests neural recordings made by the interrogators and thus relives the experience. The book then launches into multiple narrative streams, revealed in the recordings, involving macho Greek banker Kyriakos; fifth-century alchemist Athenais, mistress of Saint Augustine; and Ethiopian expatriate artist Bekele. These narratives are woven together to create a tapestry of meaning and of mystery. The theme of katabasis, the descent and emergence from the underworld, is central. Verdict The book functions as a riposte to the dangers of the surveillance state, demonstrating the interconnectedness of consciousness and the triumph of the all, the gnomon, over totalitarian control of the few. This work goes so far as to invoke the reader's role in creating the narrative, which is simply astonishing; to be read at all costs! [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/17.]-Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Harkaway's inventive, mind-bending, and mesmerizing novel interweaves a detective story set in the future with disparate tales of a Carthaginian alchemist, a Greek investment banker, and an Ethiopian painter. Harkaway imagines London in the not-too-distant future as a city where technology meets all security, medical, transportation, informational, and scheduling needs; facilitates democratic decision-making; and monitors emotional well-being. When 61-year-old refusenik Diana Hunter (she prefers books to electronics) dies in custody, Insp. Mielikki Neith investigates. Using the Witness machine to examine Hunter's last thoughts, Neith discovers a puzzling mix of narratives: the story of alchemist Athenais Karthagonensis, Saint Augustine's former lover, kidnapped and taken to the Chamber of Isis; the adventures of Constantine Kyriakos, a financial shark who gains wealth and fame after a near-fatal encounter with an actual shark; and the recollections of Berihun Bekele, a painter from Addis Ababa who comes out of retirement to create artwork for his granddaughter, the designer of a computer game so powerful the British government wants to buy her company. As Neith separates clues from red herrings, Harkaway (Tigerman) reveals a digital dystopia of constant communication, information saturation, and diminishing humanity. Literary spelunkers in particular will enjoy decrypting his social science fiction, rich in literary, historical, and pop culture references and laced with humor and linguistic sleight of hand. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Booklist Review
*Starred Review* With every new novel, Harkaway manages to further explode the idea of boundaries as useful tools to contain our understanding of character, genre, and story. The notions of apocalypse and postapocalypse have been key ingredients in all of Harkaway's previous novels, but here he takes them in an altogether new direction, both thematically and narratively. The world of near-future Britain has become a total surveillance state, but this Big Brother isn't evil, or so we want to believe. Yes, our lives are controlled by the System, the outgrowth of a computer game expanded to the real world, and, yes, all our actions, emotions, and biological processes are monitored by an electronic police force called the Witness, which can detect when we are soon to experience a health crisis or commit a crime as well as how we feel about various public issues. But the System is theoretically driven by our needs to be healthy, to avoid breaking the law, etc. The System and the Witness, that is, are designed to enhance freedom, not curtail it, to make possible a harmonious rather than an unruly democracy. Yes, but . . . this utopia has a few rough edges. There is a system beneath the System designed to make us feel the way a secret group called the Fire Judges wants us to feel, and, meanwhile, a counterculture of refuseniks has sprung up, determined to opt out of the System altogether.An intriguing premise, yes, but so far not all that unusual in the world of postapocalyptic fiction. That all changes when a refusenik named Diana Hunter dies during the brain probe that the System calls interrogation. A kind of Witness ombudsman, Mielikki Neith, is summoned to investigate, which means connecting her brain to Hunter's brain and experiencing what Hunter experienced during the interrogation. And so begins a narrative whirligig that spins the reader through the stories and characters in Hunter's (and Neith's) head: an Ethiopian painter who possesses magical abilities; his daughter, the computer genius who invented the game that spawned the System; a hedonistic Greek financier haunted by a mythic shark and by the number four; a first-century alchemist; and, most confoundingly, the titular Gnomon, a posthuman entity from the distant future who lives simultaneously across multiple bodies. These myth-laden stories all connect to Neith's investigation, but as Harkaway takes us deeper and deeper into the wormholes of his imagination, the fabric of those connections becomes less graspable: Is there a reality beyond Hunter's head? Is Neith our connection to that reality, or is she, too, a character in Hunter's head? She knows so much, Harkaway says of Neith, so why does she feel she still doesn't understand? Readers will know very well what Neith is feeling. We don't understand, either; we don't even understand if our lack of understanding is a flaw in the novel or in ourselves. We recognize that Harkaway is delivering a ferociously powerful polemic about the subversive nature of deep-diving electronic surveillance its ability to rob individuals of their individuality but far, far beyond that, we also recognize the dazzling complexity and pyrotechnical brilliance of the world he has created here. Give Gnomon a galaxy of stars for its sheer audacity, and place it alongside such nearly as audacious novels as David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks (2014) and Iain Pears' Arcadia (2016). And recommend that brain-weary Harkaway readers follow up Gnomon with a little P. G. Wodehouse to decompress.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2018 Booklist