Gnomon is Nick Harkaway's latest masterpiece, a monstrosity of science fiction and history and humanity and the near future and the distant past. It is layers of stories, of questions, of faith and fiction, and of mysteries, starting in the UK in a utopian-like future that could happen sooner than we think.
Inspector Mielikki Neith is called in to investigate the death of Diana Hunter. Hunter was resistant to the state, hiding from all the technology that is being used to monitor every individual, to prevent crime, and to unite the citizenry in a fairly happy and democratic system. But Hunter, a 60-year-old divorced woman, living on her own in near-Luddite fashion, a writer and dissident, believes that any such system is bad for humanity and refused to comply. So she was called in for an investigation (basically, a mechanical mind-reading to scan for physical abnormalities or uncivil ideas), and the worst happens. She dies in the middle of the procedure. Normally the procedure is benevolent, leaving the witness feeling happier and more focused. But this time, it all went wrong. And now Inspector Neith has been called in to investigate what happened.
Neith's investigation starts with a download of Hunter's scan into her own brain. It's a thing that happens in this future. You can download another person's consciousness into your own. It's not the first time Neith has done this. She likes to explore the new consciousness slowly, unraveling it thread by thread over time.
And this is where the story takes a sharp sideways turn.
Hunter's story is not just her own. It takes Neith (and us) through time, through layers of stories and mystery upon mystery. But you can only find the true answer when you get to the very end. It's the strangest, most fascinating, mind-bending trip, and it's not for the feint of heart, or the feint of book. Gnomon is just under 700 pages, so it's not a journey to take lightly. You have to be hard-core to go on this ride. It's kind of like riding a roller coaster, but one where you aren't strapped in. You just have to hang on for dear life and hope you can hold on until the end.
I had not read any Nick Haraway before this, but I'd heard people I respect rave about his books, so he was on my radar. And I see why. The language of his story is beautiful, and I'm still trying to wrap my head about his plotting. I look forward to reading more of his books. Eventually. It will take awhile to recover from this one.
Galleys for Gnomon were provided by Random House through Firsttoread.com, with many thanks.