The Gone-Away World is, first and foremost, a very funny novel. A sprawling adventure spanning decades, it never misses a chance to laugh at the absurdity of life as—as the narrator so aptly puts it—hairless mammals. I always appreciate this outlook, because we are ridiculous, highly flawed creatures making our way as best we can.
The story begins in a bar in what appears to be the wilderness, but we soon find out to be postapocalyptic England—sort of. A mini-disaster has just happened, a large fire burning up the pipe that is the lifeline to the entire region, and our narrator is a member of the crew called in to put it out. What is the Jorgmund Pipe, exactly, and what is FOX, the necessary ingredient for life on earth? We go back to the beginning of the narrator’s life to find out what happened before, during, and after the Go Away War that made the world what it is today.
From here, the novel covers everything—a whole life, from childhood friendship through schooling through university life and first loves and first radicalisms through the military. As a teenager our protagonist began studying martial arts; he had no aptitude for the “hard forms” his best friend Gonzo excelled at and so apprenticed himself to Master Wu, practitioner of the soft-form gong fu in the style of the Voiceless Dragon. Fellow student Elisabeth is smart, mysterious, sexy, and ultimately untouchable, even years later when the two mourn Master Wu’s death together.
In the military, our narrator is, we find out, involved somehow in the creation of a new generation of weapon: the Go Away Bomb. It will make the enemy Go Away. There is a bit of a physics-related explanation of what this means, but it’s important only in
Continue reading The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway