|TURNAROUND PUBLISHER SERVICES|
the guardian Tue 08 November 2011
A welcome reissue for this rich and strange novel, which has languished in undeserved obscurity since narrowly missing the National Book award in 1977. It is 1897, and Swedish inventor Gustav Crispin and two companions embark on a hydrogen balloon voyage to the north pole, accompanied by a crate of passenger pigeons and a plentiful supply of canned goods. As they drift across the snowy wastes a parallel narrative unfolds: Crispin's reminiscence of his fraught romance with Parisian society beauty Luisa. Thus the exploration of virgin territory occasions an investigation into sexual politics as witty and ironic as one could wish for. Harris captures brilliantly an "epoch of railway trains and coulomb apparatus" where 19th-century convention coexists uneasily with mass mechanisation, yet where vaulting ambition remains largely held together with copper wire and waxed paper. All this is delivered in prose as polished and intricate as a 25-jewelled watch. Harris died in 1993, but not before writing a further 15 novels. Much more, please.