VSL:BOOKS // A riveting first novel about the end times

The environment’s blasted. The world has gone to war over natural resources, and the global economy’s down the tubes. But this end of the world-as-we-know-it is actually the starting point of Nick Harkaway’s grippingly bleak — but entertaining! — first novel.

Like other postapocalyptic epics (The Postman, or Planet of the Apes), The Gone-Away World is set in a time and place that feel like an especially pessimistic extrapolation of our own: In this case, the world’s population has been reduced in number (and in civility) by weapons of mass destruction, and a hero — the improbably named Gonzo Lubitsch — sets out to protect what remains. There’s plenty of action — it involves monsters, ninjas, and mimes — but the novel’s emotional center is Gonzo’s friendship with Harkaway’s (unnamed) narrator. The novel is blackly comic, broadly philosophical (Harkaway manages both registers with equal aplomb, and avoids nihilism), and compulsively readable. N.B.: Harkaway is John LeCarre’s son (like “LeCarre,” “Harkaway” is a nom de plume), which gives him both pedigree and pressure. Let’s hope he’s not as prophetic about international relations as his father was.

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here. VSL:BOOKS // A riveting first novel about the end times