I’ve just finished reading Nick Harkaway’s second novel, Angelmaker, and I don’t know how to begin to describe it.
Let’s start by saying it was a fantastically entertaining read. Normally, I’m a bit hesitant when I see a book described as “absurdist” as quite often this is a misnomer, and what you actually get is something a bit surreal. This is not true for this book, albeit the cast of characters includes an octogenarian secret agent (retired), an evil dictator (who surely must be older than dirt), a serial killer, a community of Undertakers, a monastic society of former-creator/inventors-now-turned-evil-bodyguards (or something) called the “Ruskinites”, and a gnarly, near-toothless pug with pink marbles for eyeballs. Oh, and throw in a spy train, a secret government torture chamber and a “doomsday” machine in the form of a golden beehive with automaton bees.
Part spy novel, part adventure, a bit of fantasy, and insanely, deliciously imaginative, the story starts with Joshua Joseph Spork, a big man of quiet demeanor who has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as a clockmaker, eschewing his father’s illustrious career in crime. In repairing a clockwork book for a secret client, he unwittingly sets things in motion that may be the end of the world.
Joe Spork grows up in the underbelly of London, where his father Matthew “Tommy Gun” Spork runs The Night Market. While he learns to pick locks, run a con, spot the monte, and generally worships his father, the adult Joe walks away from this life. Joe lives a low-key existence, with a “don’t misbehave, do as you’re told and all will be ok” mentality, but soon comes to realize that this doesn’t guarantee safety or security as his life is turned upside down.
I dare not say anything more lest I give away any of the plot. This book has so many elements, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface, and although you might think it sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen, Harkaway pulls it off with clever writing and great humor.
And, still not feeling like I am doing the book justice, all I can say is this: read it.
You won’t regret it.