Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

In the near future Britain has become a place of complete and utter transparency. Every utterance is recorded. Parliament has been disbanded. But this is no hackneyed North Korea. Everyone sees, hears and votes on everything, and the market reigns supreme. Citizens are encouraged-but-not-forced to take part in weekly mass voting, and the ever-helpful System offers them gentle reminders like ‘smooth economic flow and creative justice … are also inherent parts of plebiscite-regulated market democracy.’ Paradise.

When writer Diana Hunter attempts (criminally) to live off the grid, the full weight of this ‘free’ system comes crashing down on her and she dies under interrogation. Enter detective Mielikki Neith, passionate partisan of the System. It’s her role to investigate how the interrogation machine that reads suspects’ life history accidentally killed poor Diana. Neith pores through the neural recordings of this futuristic water-boarding session and finds not one Diana, but four (and also none). Where the writer should have been there was instead a medieval alchemist who shacked up with St Augustine, a banker, an anti -fascist artist and a time travelling assassin from the future with four specific victims in mind. Is it all an elaborate riddle? A sick joke? A treasonous plot? Some meta-combination of all three?

Sure there are the standard shades of 1984 and Bentham’s Panopticon here, but there are also less likely digs at the unquestioned dominance of the market, and the contradictions of political participation in a profit-driven society.

Nick Harkaway takes us on a journey through some dark but familiar times. He’s crafted a rollicking, hallucinatory romp into the dark possibilities unleashed when capitalist freedom couples with unquestioned surveillance. But it’s also an exploration of the insane, hilarious and all-too-human things we try to hide: vanity, lust, pride, cowardice, obsession and apathy.

Chris Dite works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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Nick Harkaway

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