This is the story of the unnamed protagonist and his best friend, Golden Boy Hero Gonzo Lubitsch (I wonder if the name is a nod to Mr. Ernst Lubitsch) as they navigate childhood, adolescence, adulthood, war, love and treachery. In fact, the greater part of the book (around three-fourths of it) is one huge flashback -- from their first meeting to the circumstances that brought them from students to soldiers to mercenaries to truckers and where they are now.
This is also the story of a man-made cataclysm of non-existence: a weapon has been invented that can make whatever it is pointed at simply Go Away. So of course, when the pencilnecks decide to deploy this weapon on a larger scale (obliterating an enemy town in the fictional country of Addeh Katir), it causes a disastrous chain effect and proceeds to Vanish off huge chunks of the world. Not only is the population less than a fraction of what it should be, but now there be monsters (also, electrical power in bars are now pig-generated so everything smells a bit porky). The only safe place to be is around the Jorgmund Pipe, which protects people from the reification Stuff from which monsters arise.
And now the Pipe is on fire. It's up to our protagonist and Gonzo the Hero to save the day -- but of course, it's more than a simple matter of kicking dirt over a busily combusting object. Fiendish plots, political whammys, identity crises, and martial arts abound in alarming number and show no sign of abating.
The Gone-Away World is the most (hilariously) tangential book I have ever read. If one were to take away all the bits of less-than-regular-relevance (plot-wise, that is), if one were to excise all the parts which (intelligently) discuss exploding sheep, the many hells of Grandma Shenyang, the tragedies of not being shot in war, shrew tachycardia, and talking mimes, one would be left with only 200 or so pages out of 500 to read.
Of course, one would also have a lot less fun.
Everything about this book is entertaining. I don't think I've ever been as entertained in my entire life. I carried this book around with me everywhere and probably embarrassed myself noisily reading it in public places, but it's the kind of book that you never want to stop reading. The Gone-Away World has a refreshing sense of its own absurdity (because you don't spend a ridiculous amount of page space talking about an afterlife full of nymhpic, bouncing sheperdesses unless you are prepared to admit that what you are writing is not exactly Serious Literature), but it still has a solid, exhilarating plot behind it.
It's hard to pick a part I loved best, but it would have to be the point after which (and here I warn you now. Spoilers. If you ever plan to read this book, stop reading now because there is a HUGE spoiler that is central to the entire story. GO BACK NOW.) the protagonist has finally separated himself from Gonzo and learned the truth about his origins.
Nick Harkaway's not just extremely good at being funny. He can play them heartstrings like a pro, too. When the protagonist returned to Cricklewood Cove because no one seemed to remember him anymore--well, I didn't even come near to crying, but I was made very melancholy. When he discovered that he was just a figment of Gonzo's imagination made real, you felt his vulnerability and how completely and utterly lost he was. I'm left with that image of him on his knees in the playground sandpit, where Gonzo literally made a friend. It's a very delicate, very powerful moment, and Nick Harkaway pulls it off.
I was made flesh, and in the process taken from him. I was never supposed to be real. How terrifying to confide your every doubt to an imaginary companion, to bequeath to him every alternative, and then one day to turn and see him standing before you. Gonzo must be feeling so hollow inside, with me spun out and separated from him. It must be quiet and empty in there.
He revisits Gonzo's--his--parents, and when they accept him, or when Leah finds out who he is, it's enough to make you wonder if you'll need a hanky or two to sop up the remains of your face. It all comes together, though. He's the brains to Gonzo's brawn, and he proves it when he sets out to save Gonzo and in the process, scam the upper class and pencilnecks of Haviland. And scam them brilliantly, he did.
From that point on, it was a breathless race to the finish for me. The final battle (of ostensible mimes, truckers, crazy French guys with tanks, and Jack-in-the-boxes versus ninjas of the Clockwork Hand) was one big rush of adrenaline and laughter.
I hope that Nick Harkaway will write another book because his is one of the funniest (yet understated) voices I've ever read, but call me a pessimist -- I'm pretty sure that he won't be able to match The Gone-Away World ever again. It's that good. That Great.
The best thing about this book is
exploding sheep Ronnie Cheung Dr. Andromas that you can really feel Nick Harkaway's sheer, almost hellish delight in writing this story. Some have said it to be excessive -- he's a bit too in love with it, taking far too many tangential liberties, etc., but I think that's part of its charm. This book isn't for everyone -- you have to be with it till the end to really appreciate it.
(And what an end!)