Nick Harkaway tells us about new novel Gnomon, a cautionary tale of the near future
a few years back, nick Harkaway had a conversation with William Gibson. The cyberpunk luminary revealed himself as a writer who likes to dive in and follow the story. “I’ve always been a bit plan-orientated and I thought, ‘Right that’s really interesting, I must try this out,’” says Harkaway. “And I started writing, and three years later I delivered this kind of telephone directory to my bemused editors.”
The directory in question is Gnomon, Harkaway’s fourth novel and by far his most ambitious. Dressed up as a multi-stranded murder mystery that involves a detective in a near-future Britain investigating “a sequence of increasingly impossible things”, it’s a book that deals with surveillance, the psychological effects of being monitored, and an impulse towards authoritarianism that Harkaway sees on both sides of British politics.
Big themes, as Harkaway, a man who says he’s more comfortable using humour “to distract from the fact that I might conceivably take myself seriously,” acknowledges. “I had to sign on the dotted line and say, ‘Look, there are things in this book that I care about and think are important, and I think you should care about too,’” he says.
As for the craft of using story to make you care, that’s deep in Harkaway’s DNA. Famously, he’s the son of John le Carré, yet when Red Alert mentions a conversation with Joe Hill – “I know Joe a little bit now and he is, of course, the only person in the world with whom I don’t have to discuss fathers” – the influence of Hill’s mother, writer Tabitha King, on the horror novelist’s writing, Harkaway immediately identifies.
Harkaway’s mother is ex-book editor Valérie Jane Eustace, someone with an “extremely clinical, extremely forensic gift with story”. He concludes: “You can’t be in the house that I grew up in and not be aware that it is my mother’s space as much as my father’s.”
Gnomon is out 2 November.