cover image Gnomon


Nick Harkaway. Knopf, $28.95 (704p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3208-0

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.)