Tuesday, 8 January 2002

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

Edition: Gollancz, 1992 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1028

Three undergraduates, under the guidance of one of the tutors, perform an occult ritual in a Cambridge field. In later years, even though none of them can quite remember what happened or what they actually did, the experience continues to haunt them. They spend their lives trying to escape it, trying to have lives which do not centre around this disturbing event.

Harrison portrays the world of the occult as sleazy and sordid, where unpleasant immoralities need to be committed to try to bring about uncertain results. It is made very obscure to the reader; Harrison does not reveal any more to the readers than the characters are able to remember. All we can know are the effects that it has had on the three former students - the visions and obsessions which stalk them - and how they try to deal with them. Even the existence of the supernatural (in the novel's fictional world) is left somewhat in doubt (shared hallucinations being the only evidence).

Perhaps more than Harrison's other novels, The Course of the Heart is reminiscent of other writers; there are echoes here of Lawrence Durrell and Iris Murdoch (particularly of The Sea, The Sea). The Course of the Heart is an excellent and thought provoking novel, stripping the world of the occult of the glamour which it is so frequently given.

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