Taking notes while reading, the deeper I get I start to gain a picture of what a novel is about, and subsequently how I will shape the review. I stood no chance with Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon (2017). Constantly evolving in unpredictable directions, it wasn’t until the closing sections for each character that I started to gain a fuzzy picture. Cyberpunk dystopia? Humanist plea? Expression regarding the power of semantics and story? Lexical playground? Pulp apologetics? Reservations about technology? Political rant? My fuzzy picture is that it is likely all of them.
In its birthday suit, Gnomon is about Diana Hunter, a politically deviant woman who is brought to a government facility to have her mind read as part of a Witness investigation. Dying on the operating table, Investigator Neith comes in to determine the cause. Naturally looking into the thoughts and memories the Witness machine picked up before Hunter’s death, the investigator is surprised to find a collection of personages inside Hunter’s mind. One a Greek finance magnate caught in the country’s early 21st century economic woes, another an Ethiopian painter who now finds himself helping his daughter with the graphic design of her video game, the third an ancient Greek alchemist having herself to investigate a seemingly impossible death, and the fourth a demon (or djinn) who pops in and out in devilish fashion. And above all of these characters floats a future entity, a hive mind calling itself Gnomon. Seemingly able to travel through time and the data sphere, its presence is shadowy as much as the sharks haunting the lives of the other people in Hunter’s head. Neith’s investigation takes her places the all-knowing government Witness system would have it, and more interestingly, places it wouldn’t, the result is a surprising cause to Hunter's death.