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The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison
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The Course of the Heart (1992)

by M. John Harrison

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247746,499 (3.48)8
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    Mefisto by John Banville (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Potent short novels with enthralling imagery, in which the protagonist's experiences with magic have equivocal results.
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M John Harrison, in an ideal world, would be acclaimed by all and sundry as one of our greatest writers. As it is his works are not as widely known as they should be.

Harrison started life as a Science Fiction writer, moved into fantasy with his Viriconium sequence (of which In Viriconium stands as a kind of masterpiece) and then, in the late 80's there was a shift into what I can only call magical realism. The Course of the Heart is of the latter strand and is a quite wonderful book. Harrison, beginning with the novel Climbers in 1989, began to write stories with a strong sense of place that were shot through with surreal imagery, dreamlike and disturbing, yet melancholy and moving as well.

The Course of the Heart stands between Climbers and Signs of Life and now that I have finished it, is one of my favourites of his works. The tale of three Cambridge students who, one June day, perform some kind of experiment (whether occult or scientific, or a mixture of both is never fully explained) with the aid of the strange and complex Yaxley, and end up living with the consequences for the next twenty-odd years.

Harrison imagines something called the Pleroma, a kind of Heaven, which all three glimpsed somehow. Lucas and Pam, who later marry, deal with it by inventing a mythical country (a realm of the Heart) somewhere in middle-europe. Lucas expands on this in the form of a fictional travel writer, Michael Ashman, and his investigations into 'The Coeur". Yaxley, a demented figure on the fringes, drifts in and out of the narrative, promising help, but never delivering. Hallucinatory imagery abounds. Pam and Lucas buckle under the strain, Pam becoming ill, Lucas burying himself in his fictions.

Harrison writes all this with such power, such vitality, that you end up wishing the Empress Gallica XII Heiriodule had been real, that The Coeur had not removed itself from the world. There are deep Gnostic philosophical arguments at the heart of this book, but they never get in the way of the story, which, in the end, is a love story.

This is a brilliantly written book, full of humanity, magic and loss. Do yourself a favour and get acquainted with the worlds of M John Harrison. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
This is a wonderfully-written, intelligent book that I did not enjoy at all. A few things happen, some things are talked about, and there is a lot of waiting and looking at things. I feel as if the book would be better read by someone having grown up about 10-20 years before I did (I was born in '69), more intellectual, and more willing to be surprised by a novel willing to take on the vague ennui and seach for meaning by the well-educated middle class - a search that, like Yaxley's rituals, seem to yield nothing real and only things imagined. I can't rate it by stars b/c it would have to have two different ratings - a 4 for how good it is, a 1 for almost complete lack of enjoyment.
  amandrake | May 29, 2016 |
A sad story, beautifully-told in true M. John Harrison style. It was interesting reading this just after Things That Never Happen because familiar sentences, paragraphs, even entire short stories were woven into the novel. In that new context, they sometimes took on entirely different meanings. Something like Winter's Tale and something like Umberto Eco. ( )
1 vote wirehead | Jul 9, 2013 |
Fantasy's potential for escape, or for mere escapism, or for nothing in particular, is examined through the lives of four would-be escapists. Harrison's Imagist-like prose ensures the novel with keep you aesthetically pleased even as he repeatedly crushes your hopes beneath his heel. A refreshingly indirect novel, in every possible sense. ( )
  Longshanks | Jul 24, 2012 |
This is a beautifully worded book, very descriptive and evocative. The story is based on an occurance that is never fully explained, but that affects the characters' day-to-day experience for the rest of their lives. I can't say I enjoyed the story, but the way it was written made it easy to read. ( )
  carmelitasita29 | Oct 24, 2009 |
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