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Climbers: A Novel [Paperback]

M. John Harrison
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Nov 2004

Retreating from his failed marriage to Pauline, Mike leaves London for the Yorkshire moors, where he meets Normal and his entourage, busy pursuing their own dreams of escape. Travelling from crag to crag throughout the country, they are searching for the unattainable: the perfect climb.

Through rock-climbing, Mike discovers an intensity of experience - a wash of pain, fear and excitement - that obliterates the rest of his world. Increasingly addicted to the adrenalin, folklore and camaraderie of the sport, he finds, for a time, a genuine escape. But it is gained at a price...

This dark, witty and poetic novel is full of the rugged beauty of nature, of the human drive to test oneself against extremes, and of the elation such escape can bring.

Product details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (4 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753819554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753819555
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 727,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


M. John Harrison has abjured the high-pitched melodramatics of TOUCHING THE VOID for a microscopically observed novel about a group of climbers... descriptions of the various climbs are painstaking and suspenseful, and Harrison has a sharp ear for dialogue. But most impressive is his acute sense of place... the raw beauty of the Pennines. (Sinclair McKay The Daily Telegraph)

'Stunning.... Harrison makes an intensely poetic and evocative brew of the interstices between sport, passion and obsession. Moments of exquisite surreality rub against others in which you can smell the soil and stone'. (The Times)

Book Description

The only novel ever to win the Boardman Tasker Prize: 'Sheer brilliance' - Iain M. Banks

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm not a climber but... 6 Dec 2008
By Mr. D. N. Sumption VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although I've never climbed in my life, I absolutely loved this novel. It described certain aspects of human behaviour - the tedium of daily life, the desire for escapism, and the ultimate pointlessness of life-avoidance tactics - like nothing else I've ever read. Although inclined to be dour and depressing, the book's scattered with incredible moments of beauty, humour (the adrenaline-junkie who, on falling off a rock-face into a tree, enjoys it so much that he does it again) and surrealism (the feral Scouts and Guides who roam the Pennines). Everyone should read this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book. 18 Aug 2005
I have been an enthusiast of M John Harrison since I read the incredible 'In Viriconium'. This book captures the single mindedness obsession and isolationism that occurs when you live for a pastime. It is beautifully written. A window into someone else's life. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important novels of the 80s 9 May 2013
This is a remarkable novel, ostensibly about climbing, but as much about masculinity, failure, the desperation of life in Britain in the 1980s, and finding meaning for one's life. Harrison is sometimes overlooked because he's thought of as a "science fiction" writer. Set aside the snobbery in that judgement and the stupidity of such classifications. He is a powerful and exact writer who is hugely admired by other writers (and is in his turn a fine critic who regularly reviews contemporary fiction in the Times Literary Supplement). His naturalism in this novel is no less metaphorical than the more apparently fantastic writing in his Viriconium novels or in the Kefahuchi tract trilogy (Light, Nova Swings, Empty Space). In a world with any justice, he'd be spoken of in the same breath as AS Byatt, Martin Amis or Julian Barnes as a master of modern British fiction. This new edition has a preface by Robert MacFarlane, a man who knows his literary history and his mountains, and who thinks very highly of the book. If you've never read Harrison before, this is a good place to start; if you have, you already know how good he is, so read this one too!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of gritstone and grey days.... 24 April 2006
Mike is a failure in his "real" life; fleeing a loveless marriage he returns to his ancestral North and falls in again with a clique of gritstone climbers; the novel essentially follows a series of tangled, fragmented lives through a year of climbing, contrasting the precision and determination required to master increasingly challenging problems on rock with disorganised, aimless lives. This is a book written by a climber; Harrison has been active in the sport for many years. The descriptions of climbing are powerful and seem authentic; the tales of Northern life just as affecting and powerful.

Harrison is more known for his fantasy and science fiction; this book brings the same cool detachment and eye for detail to a more mundane milieu and works just as well as his more fantastic work. A compelling and powerful novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best British Novels of the 1980s 4 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A series of episodes with a climbing theme, set mainly during the extraordinary (now forgotten) draught of 1984, when much of the North of England had an abnormally dry Spring and Summer - perfect for climbing.

The book is narrated by "Mike" who shares much in common with the author M John Harrison; a fell runner and keen climber. Quite deliberately, as the various sections accumulate we're presented with an accurate description of the 'respectable' fringes of British society in the mid 1980s. Hence my 5-star rating - you can read this as a description of climbers and their adventures, or as a brilliant social novel.

Harrison's descriptions and dialogue are excellent, some of the characterisations are near perfect, and it's only the somewhat random and chaotic structure of this novel that grates.

At times brilliant and inspiring, sometimes dark and disturbing and always entertaining, "Climbers" is a brilliant work of art. Buy it and cherish it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse of life hanging on the edge 22 April 2009
By Lendrick VINE VOICE
I knew M John Harrison as a science fiction writer so was intrigued to come across this as I'm a bit of an armchair climber.

Climbers is fantastically well written and as the title suggests focuses as much on the climbers themselves as the act of climbing. Though the sections which describes the climbs are gripping.

There is no plot as such, just a description of a year in the life of a group of male climbers in the north of England with some insights into why they do what they do. Harrison was a climber, and his real experience give the book it strength.

Why only 4 stars? Perhaps because the lack of plot means it seems to peter out a bit at the end rather than come to a climax. But I'd heartily recommends this a s a good read.
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