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The Course of the Heart
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The Course of the Heart

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  296 ratings  ·  36 reviews
A novel which weaves together mythology, sexuality and the troubled past and present of Eastern Europe. It begins on a hot May night, when three Cambridge students carry out a ritualistic act which changes their lives. The author won the 1989 Boardman Tasker Memorial Award for "Climbers".
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published June 11th 1992 by Victor Gollancz (first published 1992)
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"Greg Adkins"
An odd little book -- difficult to get into, at times difficult to follow, and, for me at least, difficult to finish. And yet I'm glad that I stuck with it. It has a dense, poetical rhythm that while sometimes infuriatingly obtuse ended up being greatly affecting. "The Course of the Heart" follows a group of three college friends who, after performing a byzantine magic ritual the precise nature of which none of them can remember, find their lives slowly unraveling over the course of the next twe ...more
David Manns
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, b
Dense almost unbearably sad and horrifying work by Harrison, one of his better novels up there with Light and In Viriconium. Gnostic speculation on unraveling lives, a definate Lynchian feel throughout(I don't mean this as a cop out cheap adjective, I think my comparison holds up). Maybe it is a cop out as I can't even begin to explain this book, so I guess read it and judge, but you should definately read it.
Mike Reed
Beautifully written in that prose that only Harrison can manage: at once pin-sharp and elusive. Like crystallised smoke. One of the very few writers who can create a credible sense of the numinous, the otherworldly. Partly because he's also so acute on the banalities, the slow rot of sad lives. Mesmerising, frightening, transfiguring, awesome. Must read it again.
Jodeme, este libro me recuerda a los de Clive Barker—esto a mi parecer no es bueno ni malo necesariamente, sino inesperado—a pesar de hay menos de horror y más de melancólico. El corazón en esta vida que parpadea: espejo, ancla, luz, asesino. Me gustó, pero todavía sentía que algo faltaba—he llegado a la pleroma sin entenderla.

También uno de los cuentos que integran el volumen Things That Never HappenThe Quarry—casi palabra a palabra aparece en el octavo capítulo de la novela. Es una cosa que m
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Baal Of
This book straddles the line between weird fiction and literary fiction, and for that it comes widely regarded. The front cover has blurbs from two authors I love very much, Iain M. Banks and China Mieville, so in theory I ought have devoured this book with great relish. The problem is that it represents everything I hate about literature, as conceived by those with their literary noses firmly pointed up in the air. It focuses on characters I found utterly unsympathetic and irredeemably annoying ...more
Enpä ole sitten Perez-Reverten Rummunkalvon (noin viisi vuotta sitten) lukenut yhtä sietämättömän ärsyttävää kirjaa kirjailijalta, joka osaa selkeästi kirjoittaa. Aneemisuudessaan täysin lamaannuttava teos. Tätä olisi pitänyt ehkä osata odottaa, sen verran tulisesti joko puolesta tai vastaan mielipiteet Harrisonin kirjoista tuntuvat jakautuvan.

Pieleen mennyt maaginen koe aiheuttaa osallistujille ikäviä (osittain mielenterveydellisiä) seurauksia ja tarpeen päästä omien satujen avulla lähemmäksi
Nick Tramdack
A gnostic tale that hits you like a kick in the gut. Harrison's bleak narrative centers around epilepsy, sex, magic, medieval legend, cancer, car crashes, and how badly fantasy can hurt. If you're the kind of reader whose biggest wish is still to get a letter from Hogwarts, or (more topically) to "find out about your destiny" as the lost heir of an ancient kingdom, etc etc.... then don't read this book.

Don't read it unless you want to grow up.

Like many readers of this book, when I was finished
In the most general sense this is the story of an unfortunate couple plagued by the mysterious consequences of a barely eluded-to ritual performed during their college years, told through the eyes of their friend, who was part of their ritual (and who, unlike them, suffers no consequences). The story here seems to be almost beside the point, though, and what we get is a very intricate, extremely idiosyncratic portrait of these two very extreme people.

In what little I've read of Harrison (at thi
As someone who greatly enjoys both classic literature and speculative fiction, I was greatly disappointed by "The Course of the Heart," which promised to meld the two. The writing is overwrought and frequently incoherent. The reader is given no motivation whatsoever to continue reading the book; the characters are interchangeable madmen, unsympathetic and bereft of will. Their background is withheld throughout in a fashion that would be maddening, if the reader could be brought to care. No found ...more
Keith Deininger
It's difficult to write about the inexplicable and make it work. An excellent, literary read. Very thought-provoking. Some may not like this one because there is little that is truly explained, but for those who don't mind a little mystery, this is an excellent novel. Why have I not read any M. John Harrison before?
Guy Salvidge
I liked this a lot better last time I read it, in my early twenties. I've just finished reading Harrison's SF novel Nova Swing and the similarities are quite striking despite the difference in difference and the 15+ years between these books. In both, sad, lost protagonists are trying to find meaning out of something that is either meaningless or ultimately elusive, and in both books most of the protagonists die, but not before they get ill and vomit a lot. It struck me just how much vomiting th ...more
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.
I recently re-read this bizarre, brilliant, poetic and haunting novel. I still don't fully understand it all, and I still struggle to work out the picture that the narrative mosaic gradually assembles. However, it is so moving and imaginative that I find I'm not overly concerned with details. There is some beautiful writing here, and while some of it is a little decorative, the level of observation and insight elsewhere dwarfs that of more acclaimed 'realists'. I had a boyfriend like Yaxley. Tha ...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in January 2002.

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 i
Owain Lewis
Beguiling, mysterious and utterly brilliant. It's a kinda spooky, mystical horror story but that doesn't really cover it. Harrison has this uncanny knack of blending fantastical concepts (and we're not talking magic swords and bearded wizards here) with a realistic portrayal of the world we live in. Here magic is chaotic, unreliable, earthy, sometimes sordid and no one seems to be fully aware of what they are involved in. Moments of real sadness and beauty unfold against a backdrop of impeccably ...more
I just plain didn't find this book as genius as others might have. It's entirely anti-climactic, and I do not read books to "escape", but I do need to be captured in some sense, hooked and wooed on. The moments that actually involved the fantastic and surreal were glazed over, easily missed, which meant the bulk of the narration was largely about the tedious, the circling dramas of these three friends' (sort of four friends') lives. It was extremely difficult to keep on, if not impossible someti ...more
The Course of the Heart was difficult to start, and difficult to continue reading. It is a book that I feel is mostly composed of tone and emotional experience rather than plotting or even characterization. Though I had difficulties with most of the book, by the last three chapters I felt as if I understood clearly what was happening. The ending was very affecting, with many of the images introduced early on having wormed their way into my subconscious, only to be revisited in the most despairin ...more
Perhaps this is my new favorite book, although not because it made me feel good. Hope and helplessness intermingle with transcendence.

Update March 2010:

I have seriously downgraded my opinion of this book after reading The Green Round and a few other stories by Arthur Machen. I knew that 'Course of the Heart' originally started out as a short story called 'The Great God Pan', which presumably carried a large Machen influence since he had written a story of the same title around the turn of the 20
Three college friends engage in a ritual that is supposed to put them in touch with the Pleroma, the totality of the powers that govern humanity. What they get back is strange, individualized, and life-changing--though how is anyone's guess.

This book is steeped in Gnostic philosophy, the language is gorgeous. The relationships between the characters are moving and genuine. I've never really cared for Gnosticism. The idea of the Pleroma annoys me, so this book wasn't for me. If you're interested
Reread this thing and was no good for reading, and scarcely for life, for the next few days, just as usual on experiencing this book.

The copy was a new one, obtained because it mentioned an illustrator. Actually, there is only a cover illustration, not interior ones. I already own the hardback with the Dave McKean cover. Okay, covers and secondary characteristics of books matter to me.

Read The Course of the Heart at your own, possible, peril. If "pleroma" has a meaning for you, you may undergo
Isabelle B.
Based on the subject matter and premise, I thought I would like this book a lot more. However it failed to come together for me. The story was just sad and slow and boring, not as gripping and magical and sexy as the dust jacket would have you believe. I will admit that Harrison is truly a genius with prose. His writing is beautiful and unique and very touching. There are a couple passages, especially the prologue, that really stand out for me as exquisite writing. Nonetheless, this book was a l ...more
Wow, what a waste of time. This too-clever narrative is full of a rabbit-hole of small anecdotes, if you can call them that, that add up to a whole bunch of nothing. The author is obviously making love to the thesaurus. I know I am not the most highbrow reader, but I feel like I can tell when the pretense is trumped up, and in this case it certainly is. A few bits made me smirk but if that's all the nice things I can say about 200 pages I might as well have played bejeweled for 8 hours.
Nate Pontious
An interesting entry into the secret-ritual-in-the-woods-when-we-were-in-college, I found TCotH to be both slightly over- and under- written. Surely the impressionistic style worked toward the horror, but some of the day-to-day scenery and dealings were evasive. I found myself wondering where everyone was. I wanted an explicit investigation of that ritual. Many of the passages are beautifully written, even poetic.
Mainospuhe lupaa kauhua, mutta kauhuelementit ovat vähissä. No... ainakin yksi hiuksianostattava juttu kyllä sisältyi tarinan kulkuun. Tyyli on ennemminkin surullisen tunnelman omaavaa fantasiaa. Harrison osaa hyvin luoda tarinaansa oikeanlaisen tunnelman. Ei kerro selväsanaisesti juonen tärkeitä kohtia, vaan lukijan on pohdittava tarkoitus itse. 3+

I had a review and then the internet died. I much preferred the short story, I have no idea what Gnosticism is, M. John Harrison is a really smart writer and this is maybe the strangest book I've ever read.
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.
Greg Kurzawa
Haunting stuff by Harrison. What did those kids do in that field way back when? I still don't know, but whatever it was, it must have been awful, and they're still paying for it. Very creepy. Also available in short story form in Things that never Happen.
This manuscript must have been dropped on the floor at the publisher's and the text horribly jumbled because there is not a single word in it that makes any sense to me. I hoped for horror. I got zip.
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aka Gabriel King (with Jane Johnson)

Michael John Harrison was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1945 and now lives in London.
Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism.

More about M. John Harrison...
Light (Empty Space Trilogy #1) Viriconium Nova Swing (Empty Space Trilogy #2) The Centauri Device The Pastel City

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“Budapest is a prime site for dreams: the East’s exuberant vision of the West, the West’s uneasy hallucination of the East. It is a dreamed-up city; a city almost completely faked; a city invented out of other cities, out of Paris by way of Vienna — the imitation, as Claudio Magris has it, of an imitation.” 4 likes
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