I read Pattern Recognition, which is loosely connected to Spook Country, last year, and got to the end thoroughly confused about whether it was meant to be SF or not. Partly this is because yo, it’s William Gibson, Master of Cyberpunk; surely it must be SF?? This is the sort of confusion I also have reading Karen Joy Fowler’s work, sometimes, and I have no doubt that both authors play on that tendency, in those who come with expectations anyway. But back to this novel – I did not have quite the same confusion here. Partly this is undoubtedly precisely because I was confused by Pattern Recognition, and have thought through things like “the SF vibe” etc enough to not expect overtly SF elements. But I think it’s also because there is actually less of said vibe here. Which is not to say that this isn’t an excellent story, of course.
Gibson takes several different narrative threads, all quite disparate, and weaves them together quite delightfully. A few times it was obvious where threads would tangle – which isn’t a problem, just an observation – and a few times they crossed in totally unexpected ways. The threads involve Tito, a young Cuban man involved in some shady deals; a man named Brown, who may or may not be government, whose point of view we never actually get (for which I am thankful) but whose movements are recorded for us by someone he has basically kidnapped; and Hollis Henry, who used to be a rock singer and is now trying to make it as a journalist. These three are really different and have necessarily different ways of viewing the world, and their interactions within it. The contrasting pictures of what is going on are nicely done – when you get into the groove of who is who, I don’t think you could mistake Hollis’ chapters for anyone else’s, nor the others’.
One of the interesting stylistic points here, I think, is that Gibson uses quite short chapters. I don’t have a problem with long chapters, but short chapters have a definite impact on the rhythm of a story, especially when a new chapter heralds a new point of view, as it does here. It definitely contributes to the sense of action and pace, which I enjoyed. Conversely, something which slows the pace a little but by no means detracts from the story is Gibson’s attention to detail. He describes some rooms intimately, and goes out of his way to name brands and describe clothing and buildings. I find this a really fascinating tendency, because it could potentially date the book very quickly. For now, though, it basically works.