Monday, February 11, 2013

Angelmaker: What Hath Spork Wrought?

If you feel like maybe you've been too nice to your brain lately, and you want to give it a good, swift kick into gear, Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker is just the thing. What starts as an intricate mystery, continues as a World War II tale of espionage, and ends as a rush to save the world from one of the most dastardly villains I've read about, maybe ever. It's just absolutely crazy — unlike anything I've ever read before. 

What's more, at times, Angelmaker is hilarious (if you're willing to abide a good dose of dry British wit). At times (mostly in the first 100 pages), it's maddeningly slow and detailed. And at times (mostly in the second half), it goes by so fast, you don't even realize you're reading. (I took me a week to read the first 200 pages, and two sittings to read the last 250.)

A day after I finished the book, I sat down to record my thoughts in my reading journal, as I always do. An hour and half and 2,000 words later, I still felt like I'd missed key details and plot hinges. Put it this way: A lot of details are dropped so subtly, that you often forget them, and therefore you have no idea why, for instance, our protagonist Joe Spork, needs to visit a warehouse or visit a friend who lives on a boat. (Or maybe that was just me.) At any rate, the point is that the plot here is as intricate and with as many moving parts as the doomsday device Spork, a clockmaker, is asked to fix, accidentally activates, and then has to save the world from.

Meanwhile, amidst the present-day plot, Harkaway mixes in the story of a British spy named Edie Banister. During World War II, Edie is tasked with disguising herself as a man, and rescuing a French scientist from an evil Asian despot, before said French scientist can build the machine that will make said evil Asian despot a god (at least, that's evil Asian despot's plan).

Of course, the two storylines connect in the present as Joe Spork runs from the law and a mysterious cult of shadowy folk who worship British aesthete John Ruskin. He meets a beautiful, enigmatic woman named Polly, and tries to connect the who, how, and why (as the reader is, too), all which have a more personal bent that Joe could've possibly have imagined.

As if this book itself wasn't enough of a shock to the system, I discovered while reading that Harkaway is the son of British spy novelist John le Carré. That kind of blew my mind.

Anyway, I won't say I totally loved this novel as much as many readers have. I did thoroughly enjoy the second half, but the first half, in my view, is a bit unnecessarily long and detailed. At any rate, Angelmaker is definitely a wholly original work of fiction, and definitely something I'm glad I read. 

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