Gnomon by Nick Harkaway (book review).

‘Gnomon’ opens with a death in custody. The person in question is Diana Hunter, she may or not have been a dissident and was having her mind examined. In a chair, with probes inside her brain that laid out her thoughts for the technicians to see on a screen, but they went too far, and she died.

In a world where everyone is part of the Witness programme, there is little privacy. Like the endemic cc tv, the complete surveillance is for the common good. The Witness is part of the technology that is omnipresent in wearable tech. Everyone is signed up. Nearly everyone.

Meikelli Neith is an investigator. Her duty, like every other citizen, is to participate in democracy. Everyone votes, everyone is included in the justice programme, they are all engaged. She must join with the thoughts of the dead woman to get to the bottom, not only of her death, but of her life. But she has a problem because as soon as Neith starts to investigate, she is wrong-footed. Encountering multi-layered personalities, Neith finds it increasingly difficult to extract the meaning. It also becomes part of her waking life and, as the crossover becomes more intense, she starts falling down the rabbit hole.

Welcome to a world of wonder. This will astound and engage you or confound and confuse you. Trying to describe a plot does a disservice to its creator Nick Harkaway, who has previously created the highly readable ‘Gone Away World’ and ‘Angelmaker’. This novel is a comment certainly on how keen we are to hand over our privacy for stability and a sort of democracy. It also focuses on what a person is made of, mostly memories, in some cases other people’s.

I found it fascinating and just about caught up with the labyrinthine plot which just keeps you guessing. I would be intrigued to see a screenplay of this but worried that a screenwriter might go a little bit crazy trying to write it. There is a strong feeling that we are already living in the very over-surveilled society and this nightmarish vision is not so very far away. The idea that we are all judge and jury in the book is intriguing. Everyone judges everyone else every day on Twitter, so it would be simply a question of sampling opinions from there and before you know it everyone will be locked up by everyone else.

Sue Davies

November 2017

(pub: William Heinemann. 704 page hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78515-127-9)

check out website: www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/publishers/cornerstone/william-heinemann/

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