Gnomon by Nick Harkaway


Rate: 2/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers): Gnomon had been recommended to me by a fellow blogger and I was excited to pick up this read, especially upon reading that it had won Best Science Fiction Novel of 2017. I never read the synopsis of books as it helps me avoid forming preconceived notions as to the plot. As such, upon diving into Gnomon blind, I struggle to think of a book in which I’d been this lost at to what is with in the story. And not just once or twice, but throughout the book. I couldn’t keep track of which POV was currently front and center, with the switch often happening abruptly without pause. This jarring back and forth never allowed the story to flow for me, as any momentum gained would be broken up by the next narrative. Between the POV transitions and the narrator failing to use voice variations to indicate a change in character I’m thoroughly convinced that this read would have had a totally different feel by actually reading the novel in lieu of the audiobook. That being said, this is the first book I can remember having to stop and look up a synopsis in order to figure out what the heck was even going on.  Gnomon was incredibly ambitious with its far ranging scope, while still managing to develop its various characters every time they took center stage. However, the world building was vague and shifting throughout. In hindsight, there was likely an obvious, intentional reason as to why the world was fuzzy, although this made the reading experience much less invested than normally for a genre that is one of my favorites. I love reading dense books with high levels of details, and can talk obscure, random theories on series such as a Song of Ice and Fire all day long. With that detail in context, I can’t help but feel a mild level of embarrassment at how routinely this read had me baffled. Honestly, I haven’t quit on a book in over four years. Gnomon was very close to being left unfinished. Approximately seven hours in to the twenty nine hour audiobook, I decided to start the next Wheel of Time book in the queue because I was so frustrated with Harkway’s novel.  A few hours into the next read,with my mood significantly improved, I decided to continue because if Gnomon had won so many award it had to get better, right? Alas, this read stayed steadily murky for the remainder of the story, with the reveal only happening in the closing chapters. In hindsight, I can understand why people loved it, and I think my experience would have been significantly different had I read it in a different medium. Overall, as a reader who has a deep bias for detailed and elaborate world building Gnomon’s convoluted, interweaving timelines spanning various time periods, magics, and technologies, did not reverberate in a way that kept me mindlessly flipping pages.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
  • I’d wondered at one point if one of the perspectives was the mole sent in by the interrogators. This would have been when the detective was running through the crowd chasing her mysterious nemesis who couldn’t be seen by anyone else or the cameras. I’d just assumed that the detective was in a simulation but didn’t realize it. I was half right as she was the mole.
  • I’m still a little confused about the ending. Sure I could look up explanations and I probably will after I get done writing this section but I wanted to be honest about the depth of my confusion. The Witness perfused every aspect of life and it sounds like the program was shut down at the end and people were just bemused by it. Would there be wide ranging social implications from market prices to food shortages?
  • Individually I liked the painter’s chapters and the financial expert with his lingering shark the best for the individual characters.



  1. Was I the one the recommended this? I feel like we had a discussion on difficult vocabulary and this came up.

    I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy the experience. I agree though I think it would have been different if you had eye read it. I can’t Imagine trying to figure this out on audio!

    I agree with all of your points but I came away enjoying overall the immense complexity of the novel and the different characters. It wasn’t a whole five Star read for me, but it definitely made me sit up and think: this is an author I need to pay attention to.

    I hope you enjoy your next read more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sarah! Great memory. You definitely did recommend this book. And to be absolutely fair you did warn me not to attempt this read as an audiobook. I thought about that advice several times while I was frustrated listening. 🙂 And you were 100% right about Harkaway’s massive vocabulary. It was so impressive. And honestly, I don’t regret reading Gnomon at all. It was definitely a thought provoking read. Honestly, it is one of the wonderful things about literature that individuals can read the exact same material and have different impressions. 🙂 Thank you for the recommendations!

      Liked by 1 person

      • No worries- this is one of those books where I can see all arguments of rating spectrum lol. I understand exactly why someone would give it one star, I understand why someone would give it five. I’m glad you found something about it to appreciate though- even if it was a frustrating read!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I bought a copy of this a while ago based on the recommendations of several people. I’ve tried several times to get into it, but I just can’t. I think it’s one of those books that you either get or you don’t and I’m definitely in the latter camp. I do want to give it another try though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! I agree that it is a read that will have people either loving or frustrated with it. I would definitely give it a shot. The twist at the end is rather impressive. I always hate writing negative reviews because I’d hate to turn someone away from a book just because of my opinions.


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