Words on GNOMON


With words in mind and in front of me, I turn to Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON, a monumental novel that consumes much of my time and will consume far more before I can claim mastery of the plot or its characters (if they are characters). I’m told that 90 percent is the Eureka point.

A good part of my reading time with this novel is spent looking up words: every few pages yield yet another unknown foreign expression or two and the deployment of classical or religious concepts which I (mostly) feel obliged to grasp if only transiently. An e-reader makes the task mechanical, but even instant Wikipedia can’t answer all my finger-pressing queries as to definition.

So, how does authorial erudition enhance the reader’s experience—if at all? Will readers toss aside what may be a philosophical firework display because it’s too much effort to focus and the noise hurts our ears? I’ve read Harkaway’s terrific novels GONE AWAY WORLD and TIGERMAN neither nearly so demanding as GNOMON of my cultural capital and time resources—so why did he make GNOMON so esoteric? An attempt to lay Joyce’s FINNEGANS WAKE in the dust? (Yes, I read every word. It was hell.)

A word I learned forever: Catabasis.