Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekly Geeks, Gone-Away world Q & A

Lenore interviewed me about Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World as part of this week's Weekly Geeks thing.

First, the blurb: From rural childhood in Cricklewood Cove to military service in a bewildering foreign war; from Jarndice University to the sawdust of the Nameless Bar; their story is the story of the Gone-Away World. It is the history of a friendship stretched beyond its limits; a tale of love and loss; of ninjas, pirates, politics; of curious heroism in strange and dangerous places. Equal parts raucous adventure, comic odyssey, geek nirvana, and cool epic, this is The Gone-Away World.

Lenore: The Gone-away World is a 500 pager - how long did it take you to read it?

Ali: I'm still reading it!

It's been a much slower read than I expected, actually. I've been reading it exclusively (meaning, no other books--I do stop to eat, sleep, and homeschool my children) for 10 days, which would normally be enough time for me to finish a book of that length ... and I'm on page 315. Why is it taking so long? Well, there's a pretty high ratio of exposition to dialogue, and the style is more dense than it first appears, partly because of the English style of humor. There's a lot that's funny if you read it right, but it might take a second look to get it. Also, it seems to be a pretty easy book to put down. I'm not staying up too late at night reading it, like I often do.

Lenore: Do you have any insight on why the author might have chosen the title?

Yes, it's a perfect title for the storyline, in which scientists invent a weapon that can make the enemy disappear completely. The bulk of the book takes place during and after an apocolyptic war, nicknamed "The Go Away War," during which this weapon is used and misused by many countries, with catastrophic consequences. Entire sections of the world disappear, and some living things become sort of half-real, before scientists invent the technology to stop the distruction. The main character and his team are striving to contain the stuff before the entire world disappears.

The jacket copy touts the novel's "stunning futuristic vision a la A Clockwork Orange and 1984". Have you read these novels and if so, how does this novel compare?

There's definitely a similarity, in the sense that the theme is, "Where are we headed?" The authors of each of the three titles used fiction to extrapolate an undesirable future and thus asked the reader to evaluate the present. Actually, though, I would liken The Gone-Away World more to the movie Brazil.

What is one scene that really stands out in your mind when thinking back on the whole?

In the middle of this horrendous war, the narrator is on the verge of falling in love with a nurse he's been unable to spend any time with outside the military hospital where he's been a patient. At her request, he asks her out on a date. But in the middle of a war zone, there's no place suitable for any kind of date.His best friend, a young man of considerable influence, arranges a reconnaissance mission to an old abandoned castle-like building, and the team manages to turn one room into a "restaurant," with food ("a wild blend of Asia and Southern European), wine (made from mangos) and music to dance to (a paper-and-comb "harmonica," percussion, and jazz vocals). It's a fun scene and very indicative of the friendship between these two guys, and the fact that life and love must go on even in the face of war.

This is Nick Harkaway's first novel - would you want to read more from him?

I would, but probably not another 500-pager. One reviewer raved about this book as "a sprawling epic." Sprawling: not an adjective that I, as a writer, would consider complimentary. A little tightening (say, 100 pages worth) would have made it a better novel. The first chapter takes place chronologically in the middle of the story. Then Harkaway devotes 270 pages to the background, starting when the narrator was a young boy. Much of it was crucial to the plot, much of it was funny or interesting. But plenty of it could have been cut to keep the momentum of the story moving back to the middle more quickly.

Update: The book took a definitely turn for the weird, in a good way, on page 323. At the moment, it's riveting. I'll give a final assessment when I'm finished.

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