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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master of "Kitchen - Sink Gothic"
"The Course of the Heart" might represent M John Harrison's most elegant and powerful exploration to date of his familiar themes. The tensions between the internal and external, the metaphorical and the real are concepts that Harrison has recently returned to in his novel "Light", albeit viewed through the filter of a self referential and ironic Post-Space Opera SF. Here,...
Published on 21 Nov 2004 by Andy McDuffie

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Course of the Heart
M. John Harrison's novel The Course of the Heart, also featured as one of two of the novels in his compilation Anima, is one of Harrison's attempts to create a sense of magic and energy in a real-world situation.

The characters themselves are well drawn, existing in our world, or a rather dreary approximation of it. They are embroiled in a lopsided love...
Published on 5 July 2008 by David Brookes


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master of "Kitchen - Sink Gothic", 21 Nov 2004
"The Course of the Heart" might represent M John Harrison's most elegant and powerful exploration to date of his familiar themes. The tensions between the internal and external, the metaphorical and the real are concepts that Harrison has recently returned to in his novel "Light", albeit viewed through the filter of a self referential and ironic Post-Space Opera SF. Here, we see the after effects of an unspecified occult ritual on its three participants over the course of several years. The protagonist - the only one of the three who has maintained any contact with the seedy gnostic responsible - is driven by his guilt over being the - seemingly - least affected by the experience, to assume a sense of reponsibility for the others. The old Harrison tropes are here - the ruined and defeated streets of North London, depressed and dysfunctional charaters seeking redemption through shared metaphor - and the finale, while as unforgiving as one might expect from this master of "kitchen-sink Gothic", is also one of the most moving things Harrison has published, as our protagonist sees his contemporaries find some form of redemption for themselves leaving him to, perhaps, make the journey for the first time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On being human, 10 Nov 2009
MJH's Course of the Heart is my most battered book: read & re-read over 10 years; knocked about; pages torn, folded as markers and yellowed by time on 3 different bookcases. What draws me back each time goes right up to the place where words run out. The tale weaves reality & magic; humanity & sub-humanity; rawness & subtlety into a short, technicolour & congruent whole. It tells you about being human; it tells you about place; it tells you how humans behave in the places where they hide, sin, heal, grieve, and risk it all. Between bleached pages you'll find yourself and your most real, darkest thoughts.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Course of the Heart, 5 July 2008
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This review is from: The Course of the Heart (Paperback)
M. John Harrison's novel The Course of the Heart, also featured as one of two of the novels in his compilation Anima, is one of Harrison's attempts to create a sense of magic and energy in a real-world situation.

The characters themselves are well drawn, existing in our world, or a rather dreary approximation of it. They are embroiled in a lopsided love triangle that crumbles, is reinforced, crumbles again, simultaneously drawing the characters together and pushing them apart. The sick and troubled Pamela falls desperately ill; her ex-husband Lucas struggles to reconcile with her, using a mutually-constructed legend to do so, as the first-person protagonist watches on. Frustrated by Lucas' indirect attempt at romantic appeasement and his own scabbed-over feelings for Pamela, he is drawn into the crumbling villages of English Derbyshire, which Harrison seems to have a strong dislike for, describing it perhaps not untruthfully as grey and depressed, mirroring the emotions of the protagonist and the feel of the novel overall.

It's not a wholly depressing novel; there are instances of humour, and the observations of the main character serve as welcome minor distractions from the story, which usually end up as opaque metaphors for the relationships between the three primary characters. A lot of the novel is metaphor, including the magic realism aspects I mentioned earlier. The first section feels like a short story, which in fact it was, in part, in his collection Things That Never Happen, which was itself an amalgam of his two earlier publications The Ice Monkey and Travel Arrangements. This shows through horribly, with a fast-paced, fantasy-feel mystery developing halfway in the first chapter, only to be almost wholly ignored for a hundred pages as Harrison sinks his teeth into the comparatively dull lives of his characters. At the end, the fantastical shared history of the three isn't even revealed, leaving the reader forced to find answers and satisfaction in the snippets of information provided earlier of a Heaven-like place called the "Pleroma", which was apparently punctured during a semi-forgotten magical experiment, leaving mad manifestations to pursue the three through the course of their lives.

This fantasy element is in fact the best aspect of the book, making a fascinating and delightfully mysterious read, but the great opening is let down by the rest of the novel. If only Harrison had devoted more time to the interesting metaphor and not the "real-life" complications of his characters, then the novel would be worth a second read. As it stands, the narrative is truly beautiful, extremely powerful and emotive without resorting to clumsy poetry. To read Harrison is to feel whatever he wants you to feel, but also in this case it means to sadly crave the better aspects of the story while making do with whatever Harrison wanted to concentrate on the time, which often feels like mildly irrelevant side-story.

If you like mainstream fiction with a dash of magic, then this is the perfect novel for you. If you were hoping for a plot revolving around one of those aspects of Harrison's wonderful imagination, like his genre novels, you'll be sadly disappointed. By Viriconium instead.
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The Course of the Heart
The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison (Paperback - 5 April 2006)
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