Fantasy meets apocalypse meets allegory meets bildungsroman in an exuberant, bulging first novel by John le Carré’s son.
Set in a semi-recognizable world (Cuba is admitted into the United Kingdom), at some undated point in the future, and narrated by a nameless hero with no apparent family but a gift for martial arts and a best friend named Gonzo Lubitsch, Harkaway’s debut blends aspects of existing culture (Brazil, Catch-22, The Karate Kid) into the story. In love with names, riffs, stories and language, this is a good-natured, underedited, serio-comic take on war, ecology, capitalism and human nature, loosely gathered around the development of its central character, who is semi-adopted by the Lubitsches, wins a place at university, is captured and threatened for associating with subversives, struggles to find work and eventually joins a special-forces unit, which is how he comes to be fighting in Addeh Katir (a lush, faraway place nonetheless reminiscent of Iraq) when the Go Away Bombs start to fall, decimating the population. They are quickly followed by something worse, something that unleashes monsters from the human imagination. A kind of order is restored via the Jorgmund Pipe, which purifies the air and allows communities to develop and for which our hero and his friends work as a troubleshooting crew. But then Gonzo invades the narrator’s marriage and shoots him, leading to a terrible revelation and a new world order. Excessive and garrulous, this is nevertheless something of a tour de force, energized by set pieces, many of them involving fights, and sustained by inexhaustible imagination.
Harkaway displays talent with his big, butch, bravura first book, if not yet the ability to distinguish the wood from the trees.