Serena: A Novel
384 pp., $24.99
The Seamstress: A Novel
Frances de Pontes Peebles
656 pp., $25.95
The Wasted Vigil
336 pp., $25.00
The Gone-Away World
512 pp., $25.95
Reviewed by Elissa Elliott
And finally, I come to the book that's the most highly touted of the four being considered here. First published in the U.K., Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World is getting noticed in part because the author (employing a pseudonym) is the son of David Cornwell (better known under his own pseudonym as John le Carré). We shouldn't hold Nick Harkaway's distinguished lineage against him; neither should we make too much of it.
The Gone-Away World is a romp of the strangest nature, featuring ninjas, cannibals, a troupe of mimers, a colony of people all named K—you get the idea. If this sort of thing isn't your cup of tea, you'll probably abandon the book early on. Not that it's bad writing; it isn't. It's a rather biting and creative satire of war, or un-war, as Harkaway's unnamed narrator explains it: "we will go to war, but not really, because we don't want to and aren't allowed to, so what we're doing is in fact some kind of hyper-violent peace in which people will die. We are going to un-war." A few pages later: "The logic of un-war is strong. Certain actions demand certain responses, of which the simplest is 'Shot at? Shoot back.' " The devastations of the war in Iraq seem to be lurking between the lines.
When the story begins, the narrator is part of a force that protects the Jorgmund Pipe, a contraption that circles the globe's waist and emits a spray called FOX ("inFOrmationally eXtra-saturated matter") into the air, neutralizing the bad Stuff ("matter stripped of information"—people's dreams and hopes thrown into the atmosphere and transformed into real live monsters). The Pipe creates a Liveable Zone. When a fire breaks out along the Pipe, the narrator and his friends are contracted and outfitted to extinguish it. Something catastrophic happens, and the story shifts in a surprising direction. If you linger to the end, all dangling plot strings tie up. It's just a matter of getting through several middle scenes that are exhaustingly long-winded. Read only if you like science fiction and have a great deal of patience.
So, there you have it. If you are experiencing war fatigue, consider engaging the subject in another medium—reading rather than watching—and perhaps you will be touched in a way you couldn't have been by film. A little discomfort is a good thing, every once in a while.
Elissa Elliott is a writer living in Rochester, Minnesota. Her book Eve: A Novel of the First Woman is due in January 2009 from Delacorte Press.
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